American Eating by the Numbers
What's Really in Your Food?
Navigating today's nutritional landscape can be challenging, dominated as it is by chemical-filled processed foods, gargantuan restaurant portions, and tricky food marketing tactics. For a reality check, take a look at these figures, excerpted from David Zinczenko's book Eat It to Beat It!
58: Grams of fat in the average restaurant meal, which is 89 percent of what you should eat in an entire day. Fat is good, and necessary, and the right kind of fat—in particular the monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids you get from certain oils, plants, and fish—help fend off heart disease. But when it comes to bad-for-you saturated and trans fats, chain restaurants tend to slather them on.
333: Calories in the average burger in the late 1980s. Nowadays if you order a burger at, say, Ruby Tuesday, you should prepare for "regret Wednesday": Every burger there tops 1,200 calories, even their turkey burger, and the Bacon Cheese Pretzel Burger has an astounding 1,759 calories. Other chains are equally bad: Friendly's Grilled Cheese Burger packs 1,540 calories, for instance, and Chili's Southern Smokehouse Burger tops out at 1,600.
Restaurant Reality Check
1,128: Calories contained in a typical restaurant meal—averaged across breakfast, lunch, and dinner (so we're not just talking a big steak supper; even the pancakes are heavy). That's 56 percent of the recommended daily calorie intake for women. [Tweet this shocking stat!]
95: The percent of the recommended daily sodium allowance found in an average restaurant meal. That's 2,269 milligrams, while researchers consider a "healthy" meal to contain 600 or less—a standard that is met by only 1 percent of all chain restaurants.
200: Dollars spent annually, per capita—man, woman, and child—on prescription drugs to fight diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol. This may be related to the fact that the average American man consumes daily a two-thirds cup of sugar, a cup of fats and shortenings, 2 teaspoons of salt, and 500 more calories than he burns off.
20 percent: Reduction in the hunger hormone ghrelin after eating a breakfast high in protein rather than carbs. The same study also found that people who ate 350 calories of eggs and lean beef for breakfast consumed 290 fewer calories throughout the day than those who ate 350 calories of cereal.
70: Percent of Americans' caloric intake derived from processed foods. If you want to be in control of your weight, your health, and your life, you need to understand what's in the food you're eating—and that's increasingly difficult to do when faced with the dissembling double-talk that appears on food packaging. "Natural" and "artificial" flavors, for example, are concoctions that food manufacturers buy from big chemical companies.
47.2 percent: Increased risk of being overweight associated with drinking more than two cans of soda per day. Liquid calories may cause you to gain weight faster than food calories because they're absorbed faster. That means a more rapid sugar spike and more fat storage. A 16-ounce bottle of regular soda is the sugar equivalent of 65 Jelly Bellys, or more than two whole packages of Peanut M&Ms. [Tweet this scary stat!] A 16-ounce resealable bottle should last you three days, not one meal. In fact, the Beverage Guidance Panel suggests that if we all limited our consumption of soda to 250 calories a day, our average weight would go down more than 22 pounds—even without altering a single thing we ate.
Bank on Brown Rice
16 percent: The decrease in diabetes risk by switching from white rice to brown. In its original form, rice is a near-perfect food. Unfortunately, most of the rice we consume today is white rice, meaning rice grain is milled and stripped of its bran and germ—the two parts of the seed that pack most of the fiber, magnesium, potassium, and important B vitamins. One cup of brown rice, on the other hand, delivers an entire day's worth of whole grains—48 grams. Choose a long-grain rice like basmati, Carolina, jasmine, or Texmati, which all have more fiber to keep you satiated longer than shortgrain or white rice.
13: Number of possible types of pesticide residue that may be present in a glass of grape juice.
100 acres: Amount of pizza served each day in America. In its first iterations, pizza was relatively healthy: Whole-grain carbs, fresh cheese, tomato sauce, and plenty of herbs and vegetables gave you a complete meal with a moderate amount of calories—a primitive food pyramid on a plate. Then American food manufacturers stepped in to "improve" this traditional Italian pie, and all hell broke loose. By dousing the crust in salt and oil, we managed to make a healthy meal into a carb crash that has us straining at our seat belts. As a result, any plain pizza's health profile is a matter of balance between the toppings—cancer-fighting tomato sauce, bone-building cheese, and whatever healthy add-ons you want—and the crust, where a remarkable number of sins can be committed (thin crust is always the better option). The biggest health benefits from pizza come from the tomato sauce, which is rich in lycopene, a nutrient found in red foods like tomatoes and watermelon that has been shown to reduce your risk of certain cancers.
RELATED: 10 Healthy Pizza Recipes
Watch Out for Wheat
1: Bread's ranking among foods that contribute the most calories to the American diet. The number-two source of calories in our diet? Cakes and cookies. And not only do we sock away too many calories from bread, but most of it is made from enriched flour and high fructose corn syrup. Even much of what is sold as "wheat bread" isn't actually whole grain. To buy smart, follow these label guidelines: Always look for "100 percent whole wheat" or "100 percent whole grain" on the package. "Wheat bread" generally means white bread with caramel or molasses added to make it look dark and healthy, and "multigrain" just signifies that different kinds of junky refined grains may have been used. The very first (or second, after water) ingredient should be a whole-grain flour: whole wheat, brown rice, whole oats, etc., and there shouldn't be any flours listed that aren't "whole."
53: Grams of sugar in one glass of IHOP cranberry juice, which is the equivalent of two whole Snickers bars! Even the best juices in the world aren't as good as eating real, fresh fruit. That's because fruit is naturally high in sugar and calories, which is fine when you're eating an orange or a peach but not fine when you're drinking the equivalent of a half dozen—the amount you're often getting with a large glass of fruit juice. More important, juice has most of the fiber squeezed out of it, so it just isn't as nutritious as the original fruit it came from—and that's before food companies start working their mischief and pouring added sugar into the mix.
In Fat's Defense
260: Percent increase in the number of obese adults between the 1960s and today. And yet, back then Americans ate 45 percent of their calories in the form of fats and oils, compared with 33 percent of calories from fat nowadays. [Tweet this fact!] Despite our lower-fat diet, obesity has shot up and the rate of diabetes has increased several times over. Evidence is mounting that the culprit isn't fat itself; it's all the stuff manufacturers add to food products to make them "lowfat."
19.4: Pounds of pasta the average American man eats in a year. The average Italian man eats 57.3, or about three times as much. However, the average American man weighs 191 and the average Italian man, 160. One takeaway: It's not the pasta itself that matters the most, but what the pasta wears when it goes out to dinner. For instance, the Cheesecake Factory, in their Pasta Carbonara with Chicken dish, has dressed their innocent little spaghetti noodles in a fat suit: Not only does this dish have more calories than most of us should eat in a day (2,290), it also has the saturated fat equivalent of 1 1/3 sticks of butter—or half a dozen bratwursts.
RELATED: 10 Healthy Pasta Alternatives
1,474: Calories in the average veggie, rice, chicken, and noodle concoction served at Chinese restaurants. That's nearly the number of calories a woman should eat in an entire day, and that's before dessert. It's too bad, too, because Chinese food is loaded with a ton of healthy vegetables, protein, and fiber. You just need to know how to eat around the pitfalls so your fortune cookie doesn't read, "For God's sake, don't eat this cookie!"
50 percent: Decrease in the body's ability to absorb mercury when you drink tea or coffee with your fish. And drinking green and black tea may keep toxins in seafood from entering your blood too.
Skip Packaged Soup
22 grams: Amount of sugar in Campbell's Slow Kettle Style Tomato and Sweet Basil Bisque. "Sweet" basil is right: This soup has as much sugar as a Nestlé's 100 Grand bar, as much saturated fat as 5 servings of Cheetos, and as much sodium as 2 cups of Chex Mix. But wait, there's more: That's per serving, and this little bucket is two servings. Eat the whole thing and you've had twice your recommended amount of sugar, more than half a day's sodium, and half of your recommended amount of trans fats.
RELATED: 10 Easy Homemade Soupshttps://www.shape.com/healthy-eating/healthy-recipes/all-souped
250: Maximum number of calories a nutrition bar should have—the first thing to look for. [Tweet this tip!] A bar that looks good by the sugar/fiber/protein numbers can be hiding all sorts of artificial sweeteners, trans fats, and fake ingredients like "chocolatey chips." This is a case where it's particularly important to scan the ingredient list. The fewer, the better. Some companies have partially replaced their sugars with sugar alcohols like maltitol and lactitol to decrease calorie counts. But these syrups can cause bloating, gas, and have a laxative effect at high doses.
35 percent: Decrease in LDL (bad) cholesterol levels when you add monounsaturated fats (MUFA) to your diet, which can also increase good cholesterol (HDL) by 12.5 percent. And a Mediterranean-style diet—which is low in red meat and high in vegetables, fish, fruits, and whole grains, and includes olive oil and moderate wine drinking—can lower your LDL cholesterol levels by 9 percent.