Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Civil Eats: Where do Americans get their calories?

I am busy this week crunching data for a potential research abstract, so I thought I would send in a blog substitute for today.  Check out this post by Civil Eats.

It has a really neat info-graphic that shows America's estimated per capita calorie consumption from various food groups between 1970 and 2008.  I find what we're eating to be more telling than how much.

The major limitation of this data is that it is derived from USDA food availability statistics and not from samples of what individuals actually consume.  While they have adjusted for grocery store waste, they have not adjusted for restaurant waste.  This could mean that all the oil leftover in deep-fryers is estimated into the consumption statistics.

Added sugar appears to have risen about 20%.  Meat, egg, and nut consumption has gone unchanged.  Grain consumption inflates in the 1980's (fear of fat trend?), and added fat inflates between 1990's and 2000's.  From this data, I find it hard to blame the consumption of animal products as a cause of our current dietary tribulation, so I'm maintaining that sugar and flour are the problems.  


  1. Why not fat.. it went up just as much as grain, more than sugar.

  2. From this graphic, added fat appears to contribute to the high rates of obesity and other health problems in the US. But I think there is more evidence implicating refined grains and sugar than fat.

    1. Despite conventional wisdom, dietary fat per se seems to have little impact on body fatness. Reduced fat diets only seem to work in the short term (less than a year), whereas higher fat diets have a slight inverse association with weight gain (Willett 2002 - http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12566139).

    2. Obesity rates in the US begin to rise in the 1970's early 1980's, just as grain consumption increases dramatically. While added fat increases steadily, it doesn't balloon until early 2000's. Obesity rates actually plateau at this time, at least according to the National Center for Health Statistics (http://nchspressroom.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/obesity.gif).

    3. I was surprised sugar consumption was as high as it was in the 1970's, and it looks to have returned to similar levels. Although, these estimates don't jive with my perceptions - given the size and availability of soda and fruit juice, are we really not consuming more sugar? Either way, sugar (sucrose) is uniquely problematic and may not have a simple linear relationship with disease (Lustig 2010 - http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20800122).

    I'm exactly sure what added fat is, but I believe it is refined vegetable oils (olive, canola, corn, and soybean), and not dairy fat (full fat dairy and butter). I'm not aware of certain fats being more fattening than other fats, so I don't want to implicate canola oil as a problem while praising full-fat Greek yogurt. But high fat foods probably do pose a problem in the presence of a highly refined carbohydrate diet since they provide a substantial amount of calories for insulin to drive into fat stores.

  3. Although the girlfriend brought up a good point: The sudden increase in fat consumption at 1999-2001 seems artifactual. Perhaps they just started accounting for something that year?

    Hmmm, probably best not to wrack our brains too much on these estimates. They seem dubious!