March 14, 2014

Americans' Diets Take a Turn for the Better

A survey of Americans' eating habits finds they're eating at home more. Waistlines and even wallets may benefit.

Though they are small, the signs are there, and they're encouraging. Americans may finally be getting the message about eating better. Many are eating fewer calories, taking in less fat and cholesterol, and eating less fast food according to a recent United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) study.

The USDA report showed that, on average, from 2009 to 2010 working-age Americans reduced their calorie intake by 118 calories a day compared to 2005 to 2006. While it’s only a five percent decrease, it’s a step in the right direction.

Over the four-year period covered by the report, overall diet quality in both at-home meals and meals eaten away from home improved.

Americans also ate at home more often and consumed fewer snack foods away from home in addition to eating fewer calories. Between 2006 and 2009, they spent 13 percent less on food eaten away from home. Eating out less often also meant they consumed 127 fewer calories each day; and 53 fewer calories from fast food.

This trend is also good news because with home-cooked foods families have control over the ingredients that are used and the way food is cooked (less salt, less fat and better portion control). As an added bonus, eating together as a family helps children learn healthy eating behaviors.

Over the four-year period covered by the report, overall diet quality in both at-home meals and meals eaten away from home improved. Calories from saturated fat decreased, cholesterol intake declined, and fiber intake increased.

Americans are also now more likely to read nutrition labels and health claims on packages. Seventy-six percent said that they would use nutrition information posted in restaurants if it were available.

The information in the report is based on the responses of 10,000 people who took part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), from 2005 to 2010. Each year NHANES asks a sample of Americans from around the country about their health and nutrition behaviors.

Because the data reflect a time period that includes a major economic downturn, some of the reductions seen in eating out may have been motivated by money rather than health. Whatever the reason for the shift, one can hope that Americans are developing a taste for more nutritious foods as well as a sharper eye for nutrition information.

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