Most Americans Think Their Diets are Healthy

By , SparkPeople Blogger
If you've recently started tracking calories and watching portion sizes, chances are you've been surprised that your morning cereal is really three servings instead of just one. Or that the salad from your favorite restaurant you thought was a healthy option really isn't. It's easy to convince yourself that your diet is fairly healthy until you really start measuring and tracking your food throughout the day. That's why I'm not totally surprised by a new survey that says most Americans consider their diets to be at least "somewhat" healthy.

The survey, conducted by Consumer Reports magazine, found that 9 out of 10 Americans think they are eating better than they really are. 34% of the people who said their diets were "very" or "extremely" healthy consumed at least one regular soda or other high-calorie drink per day. "And when it came to fruits and vegetables, 58% of those surveyed said they got the recommended five or more servings per day. But Consumer Reports has its doubts. When presented with a list of 33 vegetables, 15 of them were consistently described as “rarely” or “never” eaten."

Interestingly, 36% of participants were overweight and 21% were obese based on their reported weights and heights. If their diets were really as healthy as they thought, wouldn't you expect those numbers to be much lower?

I'm always curious to see what other people are eating when I go to restaurants. It's not my place to judge whether or not their choices are healthy or not. I’m sure a lot of people are very conscious of what they are eating and the negative effect it is having on their bodies- and they choose to eat it anyway. But I think many people don't realize how much fat and calories are in the foods they are eating, or that ordering the broccoli dripping in butter and cheese really isn't the healthy choice.

It's easy to think that you've had about 8 glasses of water today or stayed in your recommended calorie range, until you sit down and actually work through the numbers. It's amazing how a few hundred calories here or there can make the difference between gaining a few pounds and maintaining a healthy weight. I don't think you should have to track calories every day for the rest of your life to prevent weight gain. But tracking for a period of time, or even occasionally once you reach your weight loss goals, can be a very useful tool.

What do you think? Are you surprised by these results?

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I know that my diet used to be very unhealthy. I ate way to much junk food. I do believe now I'm eating healthy and have lost 85 pounds to boot. I do notice what others eat though and shake my head. Report
9 out of 10 think their diet is "somewhat" healthy? At least 8 out of 10 are deluded ha ha. I always knew my diet was terrible. I was fat, but I was honest about it. Report
Tracking calories has made all the difference in the world for me. I was shocked at what my actual intake was at the beginning. Now I understand why I was not losing weight. Report
When I first started tracking honestly, I was shocked at what a large percentage of my daily intake (nearly 50%) was from snacks! It's still a work in progress to cut back on evening snacking! Report
When I was a teen the first McDonalds opened in my state. Within a few years there were local burger joints, Dairy Queens, and other fast food restaurants. We thought those were the coolest places ever and thus started a lifetime of indulging and weight gain for me. Now, as a senior citizen, I am still struggling to make healthy eating habits stick. I feel like a hardcore addict! Report
I am still, after YEARS of this stuff - being surprised at what is either not really healthy or is too big a serving. That's why, even at goal, it's important to still track at least some of the time. Report
I try and eat as healthy as possible if and when I go out to dinner. I also try to find the menu online and pick out what I want to eat and then try and find the nutrition so I can track it. I sometimes notice what people eat and think, wow, how lucky they are to be able to eat like that because I know I can't and still achieve weight loss and general health. I do think it is OK to eat a few bites of favorite foods, but just need to be smart about it. Report
If I had taken the survey a few months ago, I would have answered that my diet is healthy. I only drink water, I eat more than five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, and I rarely eat meat. BUT, after tracking my food intake, I discovered I was eating way too much. For example, I would eat 1/2 cup of pistachios every day. I intend to track my food for the rest of my life. Report
Not a surprise at all. I saw how people ate at the cafe at work and it was appalling. No salad choices at all and some anemic looking fruit. Plenty of unhealthy choices though. Report
I don't think any of this comes as a surprise to me, but it is a sad fact. We don't overeat because we don't know any better, we overeat because of our relationship with food. Obesity is such an epidemic that I believe nutrition education--real, useful, sustainable nutrition education--needs to begin in toddlerhood and continue through school. The costs of these programs would be far outweighed by the societal benefits. I was fortunate to grow up in a very healthy, active family and yet I put on over 100 pounds of extra weight during adulthood. Why? Because being healthy was so natural that we never gave it a second thought, and my parents never taught me anything about it. We are trying to do things differently with our teenaged daughter, but I fear it might be too little, too late. She's very healthy today but lessons learned younger are more likely to stick. Still, she's seen my transformation from 100+ pounds overweight to healthy and fit and I hope that lesson will carry forward with her. Report
Americans as a whole think they're healthy, in reality, we are the worst of all. Including myself. Report
Of course people think they're eating healthy - after all don't all the advertisements and labels on foods try to tell them that unhealthy foods are not actually bad for them. Do you remember the commercials that tried to convince us that high fructose corn syrup was "natural" and "not bad for us". It's time that these companies were forced to get real.

I think everyone should watch Hungry for Change or a similar show. Report
I absolutely believe these results since I WAS one of those people. Only when I began using a food scale and tracking my food did I come to terms with the fact that I was overweight because I was eating WAY TOO MUCH. I avoided the scale too since I was "active and fit" HAH! If I hadn't changed my ways I would have had double the pounds to lose. Now I track not so much for calories but to check on my nutrition goals. Thanks Sparkpeople Report
Although I admit, Americans are not known for eating healthy, this article is vague and inconclusive. It states that out of 33 vegetables, 15 were listed as eaten rarely or never. More than half, or 18, were commonly eaten then. Not that bad. Why do people need to eat all 33 types of vegetables? As for the 36% overweight based on their weight and height, this is also not taking into account muscle tone or other factors.

I also find it hard to believe that people don't know that those portions were too much when they are having to unbutton their pants and are having trouble taking a deep breath because they are too full. I admit that I have done it!

I agree that many Americans, especially low-income individuals, have poor diets (according to the CDC) and no concept of portion sizes; unfortunately, this article does not make that point. Report
My only complaint about the article is that it did not define "healthy". For example I am on a low calorie diet but would not consider it a healthy diet since I don't care what I eat as long as it fits in my calorie range. I just can't not handle low calorie and healthy all at once. Also some people think vegan is healthy no matter the calories or no carbs is healthy. It is so hard to have a conversation about healthy now a days with people without first defining "healthy" or you might be like me and end up at a calorie dense vegan place while out of town because you told your family to take you some place healthy! Report
Went to get groceries and the young gal at the checkout said, "everything is so healthy!" Sad to think that a grocery order of lean meats, frozen veggies, fresh fruit, cashew butter, almond milk, and no sweet/salty junk is so unusual that the checkout girls comment on it. Don't know whether to LOL or cry. I just thanked her and said I wished I had been smart enough to eat this way when I was her age and I would be a much healthier me at my age. Report
I'm not entirely surprised by what was written. I am glad that restaurants are beginning to publish calorie information in their menus, but I view that information more as a guideline for consumers rather than fact. Report
I had no idea that salads are not healthy and cereals and salads are really 3 servings not 1. thanks for letting me know. that is probably why my weight is not falling off. I will re evaluate this Report
I'm not surprized at all. We all "want to believe" that we are doing a good thing by ordering the brocolli. We have to be more aware that resteraunts use fat because it gives more flavor, and they're all about the flavor. Meanwhile, people trying to achieve a healthy weight are unaware for the most part.
I've adopted a philosophy of "why should I pay you to make me fat?". Really, that $40 dinner out could buy a heck of a lot of good foods that would be helpful to me. I guess it's another case of Buyer Beware. Report
I do expect track my calories for the rest of my life. Not a hard thing to do--and well worth it cause it keeps me honest. Report
Our society encourages us to live big, and that includes food. I know a lot of people who THINK that they eat healthy but don't or won't. I am fairly well educated on nutrition and dietary guidelines but even after having lost 55 pounds, I will tell anyone that I am not a healthy eater. I try because I know what is good and bad, but following it...that is a different story. We are constantly bombarded with food, and lots of it. Report
I also am not surprised. Like all the other comments, I learned portions are very deceptive until you really keep track; unhealthy options are hidden in many things we think are good for us; keeping it simple when it comes to food is often the best choice - sauces and elaborate preparations can often defeat the purpose of that plain, healthy chicken breast......I get surprised looks when I order something with no gravy or sauce on it - saves a lot of calories and fat by that simple decision..... Report
I'm with Bess. I've always loved healthy food, but I was surprised at how much of it I was eating. And I used to think the way to control swelling in my bad leg was to keep myself dehydrated and wear control stockings. When I cut back my salt to a reasonable level and started drinking more to flush out the toxins, the swelling went down to negligible. Report
When I got serious about my weight and changed my eating habits, the most shocking thing I realized was how huge the portions I ate were - and how little water I drank. While my diet is not perfect - it is healthy enough to have me at my goal weight. Report
Advertising is a big problem. I just watched a commercial for a popular restaurant that was all about how much food you would get for a low price. Now that I'm tracking my food, I realized what an awful lot of food that is! And most of it with added fat and sugar. American culture actually makes it difficult to eat well. One must be ever vigilant about reading labels and ignoring hype. The food industry has worked hard to get us addicted to unhealthy food, and will work hard to keep us addicted. Report
I started my weight loss journey at 250 pounds. I was one who thought I was eating right. At 5'6" that 250 looked horrible. Since I lost 100 pounds, I have met other men, taller than me and shaped just like I had been, stand there and witha straight face tell me they weigh "about 180". When was the last time some of these guys got on a scale?

People simply do not have a clue about what they are eating or what they weigh until they actually measure. That is why tracking is so important and weekly weigh-ins. Report
I think it is very hard for a person with the type of lifestyle that we lead to eat healthy. It is so very hard to get any healthy good for you food at any restaurant you can go to and there are many people that rely on restaurants to support their hectic lifestyle. Also there are too many available sweets and many people are addicted to them. Add that to being sedentary, it is no wonder we have such troubles. Report
I work as a nurse in a family practice office and frequently talk with people about what they eat. A lot of people SAY they like freggies but when you pin them down to how many they usually eat it is usually 3 or less/ day. But that is OK because once they recognize this we can start to identify ways they can add more to their diet, starting with breakfast. Report
I work as a nurse in a family practice office and frequently talk with people about what they eat. A lot of people SAY they like freggies but when you pin them down to how many they usually eat it is usually 3 or less/ day. But that is OK because once they recognize this we. Can start to identify. Ways they can add more to their diet, starting with breakfast. Report
I think that a lot of people think they are eating healthy when they are not...for a number of reasons. One, they may buy in to all of the advertising hype and believe the promos in commercials and on the labels. Two, they haven't read the proper materials that tell them what is healthy and what is unhealthy...about how bad food additives, plastic can-liners in the canned food, the unreal amount of sodium in most processed foods (especially soups), and how "low fat" "fat free" and "sugar free" foods have to have something else in them to add back the flavor....usually sodium or fat in the sugar free foods, and sugar in the fat free or low fat foods. Three, they have no idea as to portion size...we suffer in this country from "portion-distortion." Four, that the closer you eat food to the way God made it, the healthier you will be.
The answer is to become informed and Sparkpeople is one way to do it. The number of health-based articles here is amazing.

I had taken a wellness course in college and was pretty well-informed coming in, but had lost my self-control and was eating distorted portions and occasionally bingeing . Add to that the fact that I am pre-diabetic (which the above probably caused) and have found, through trial and error and much blood sugar testing at home, that if I am not active, I can only eat 25 grams of carbs at a meal without my blood sugar spiking too high. However, since I am closely tracking it and working out every day in some fashion, and have lost 6 pounds while being here. I was a very bad girl and had 2 slices of lemon meringue pie one day and 2 hrs later (post prandial blood sugar reading) my blood sugar was 108, which is well within the normal range. Am trying to analyze my bingeing behavior.....but hadn't had any lemon meringue pie in years, though had had sweets. I counted the pie as a meal and didn't eat again until regular meal time, and that was weeks ago.....but I digress.

My hubby thinks he is eating healthy....he takes medication for high blood pressure but, to be honest, it is a weak dose. His bp isn't very high. He brags about how he never salts anything, but every snack he chooses is salty and he needs to lose about 30 pounds (unlike my 54 pounds to go) so he doesn't listen to me much...either because I still have a ways to go or because he just isn't ready yet to "see." Getting healthy is like everything else in matter what you do, if you aren't ready to make the commitment, it won't work. So this is for me and him...I have to go all the way to jump-start him. It took me 2 years and two bouts of watching him with back trouble to convince him that he would not have back trouble if he would do stretching exercises and back-strengthening once a day, and about 6 months to get him to move it to first thing in the morning so it would help him all day. Now he is 100% better than he was and hasn't missed a day in months. He told me the other day that he was afraid that if he missed a day he would stop doing it....he even does it when we are out of town.

I think becoming healthier is a work in progress and the desire has to be there first. Hopefully, as I progress my hubby will see the changes in me and follow suit.

I do think Americans are much more health-conscious than we were even 20 years ago, though we have less time and are therefore more prone to eat convenience foods. Education is the key.

Dang, when I posted this, it is a book! Didn't mean to monopolize, but opened the floodgates, apparently. Sorry Report
I thought I was eating healthy, too. I wasn't eating that much, certainly not as much as I did 10 years ago, but I kept gaining weight. Since tracking my food, I realized that my diet was too high in fat and protein, but lacking in carbohydrates. Report
Its kinda funny that this is a blog on SP - Discounting the first and last paragraphs, the information in the blog goes against everything SP stands for (in my mind anyway).

In the 2nd paragraph: Passing along points/"statistics" which are misleading because they've been twisted to fit the research study. As many other commenters have pointed out, just because some fruits and veggies aren't popular doesn't mean that people aren't getting the recommended servings from the others on the list. And heavens to betsy if someone's treat for the day is a can of regular soda - we might as well reserve their hospital bed now;

3rd paragraph - expecting BMI information to be accurate for all participants in the study. Many "BMI obese" people are more fit than many of us dare dream to be ;

4th paragraph: focusing on the choices or habits of others without a full understanding of the situation - sure your assumptions may be correct, but maybe they aren't. Would you assume a blonde is ditzy or a brunette is a bookworm without knowing their situation? Report
I'm not at all surprised by this since I was one of those people myself. I have changed 2 things about my eating habits, just 2. I now track everything I eat on and I read the label of every prepackaged food I purchase. There have been countless times when, thinking something was OK but reading anyway, that I was shocked at the ingredients and, most of all, the sodium levels. I no longer purchase any canned soups for that very reason. Even the low sodium versions are still way to sodium heavy. I have also found quick, easy recipes for ALL of the same soups so just make them myself and control the ingredients and the nutrition. It's all about educating ourselves, that's it, that's all it takes. There are NO diets that work in the long term, NO special food or ingredient, it just has to be informed, educated choices about what you eat. It really is just that simple. Report
I found that the biggest problem I was having when I first started tracking my diet was how few calories I was eating. My allowance was for 1800 and I was regularly eating around 800-900. THAT WASN'T GOOD. I had a great start on my weight loss, but plateaued after losing 15 lbs. After realizing that I needed to eat more though, thanks to the tracker, I upped my calories and began to see more progress. Report
Duplicated post, somehow... Report
The fact that 15 out of 30-odd veggies are "rarely or never" eaten doesn't prove the respondents aren't getting their recommended servings. It just shows people tend to eat the same 1 to 14 types of favorite veggies every day. It doesn't show they lack variety, either. But even if all they eat are tomatoes and green beans every day, they may still get 5 servings, because most household and restaurant portions are easily 2 or 3 servings at once.

That said, we have been raised in a culture where non-food passes as something normal to everyday life. It takes mindfulness to cut out all the processed, sugar- and chemical-filled junk that we encounter at every turn. Report
We've all been taught some funky stuff when it comes to nutrition, portion sizes, etc. and it's going to be very hard to change that without cooperation from food manufacturers (companies?). All you can do is the best that you can. Tracking and reading labels (understanding them helps too) certainly helps. Report
When you take what we have been taught or not about nutrition and combine that with the newest diet craze, the newest "research," and advertising messages it is understandable that our perceptions are incongruous with reality. I don't think there are very many people who know what they are eating is bad for them and do it anyway. I think it is more likely that they don't realize HOW bad that "little" treat really is and that their perception of many of the foods they eat is that it is just normal food.

I don't eat anything anymore without looking it up first and I have been shocked many times by what I have found. I recently met some friends at IHop. I had not been there in many years but had always loved their international crepes. So I looked them up before I went and discovered that the most conservative crepe dish was over 900 calories and pretty much all carbs. So not only would that have been way over my calorie limit for a meal, even if I had only eaten half, I would have been hungry again an hour later. Honestly, I never imagined it was THAT bad. Report
Oddly, I had the opposite realization. Once I started tracking I was actually surprised to see I was eating a lot healthier than I had thought. I never drink soda or sugary drinks and I have more veggies than most people. I was surprised that my fiber intake is so high. My only problem area is protein. I've started putting flax into my smoothies and I try to eat or drink something protein rich after workouts now. Report
I was surprised when I actually began really to track my food. Sure I'd track meals but would neglect the "nibble" foods - the kiss here and there, the cookie from the office. It is CRAZY how many calories these things have. Now I am honest in my tracking and I have seen the weight come off :) Report
My nutrition is much better now than it was 6 months ago. It will be better in 6 more months than it is now. I am moving from diet mode to nutricious mode. So much information out there but I am finding you have to verify everything you hear. Balance and Natural are my new buzzwords Report
Not at all surprised! I always think I eat healthy. Then my diet improves a little, and I realize that the "old" way wasn't as healthy as I thought. Then my diet improves a little more. And I think, "hmm, I guess it wasn't as healthy as I thought, even though I made improvements." At what point does it actually become healthy?! LOL, the never-ending quest! Report
No, I'm not surprised. So many people I talk to think they eat healthy, and I have almost never seen them eat remotely healthy. A friend of mine, her boyfriend thinks he is pretty healthy, and until they started dating, he never had a vegetable. (I mean this - never)

I would have thought that I was reasonably healthy before too, then I started eating healthy, and now I know, I wasn't even close.

I avoid most pre-packaged foods. The more natural state your food is in the better it is for you! Report
For me it has been about the portions, and learning that with pre-diabetes I just can not "do" as many carbs at a meal as I used to! Gone are the days of a breakfast of: cereal and milk, a banana and a glass of milk!! None of which are "unhealthy"...but its just too many carbs for me to process at once! So now its a smaller bowl of cereal and milk, skip the glass of milk, and have half a banana for a snack several hours later! :) Thanks for the article!! Report
We all want to believe we are doing the best things for ourselves, including eating correctly. It is not until you actually keep track of what you consume each day that you realize that maybe what you are eating is not so healthy after all. I too look at others plates when I go out to eat but it is to help me decide if I want to order what they have, not because I am judging what someone else is eating. I rarely go out to eat so when I do I want to eat what I want and enjoy my special time. Report
I'm really not surprised. But...I also think the food industry is "very crafty" in their wording and packaging practices in regards to making the consumer feel like they are choosing healthy food. Unfortunately we have to do our homework but even then things change weekly. What is healthy and good for us this week might not be next week. It certainly keeps us in a state of confusion.
I personally don't like going out to dinner and seldom do. But when out, I really don't want to worry about how much butter was used in a recipe, how fattening is that dessert, etc. I just want to go out, enjoy the company and try not to go too far overboard. Doggie bags and the new dessert shots are great for helping me do just that. And as far as someone watching what I eat? I think they should pay more attention to their own plates and companions than me. Report
I think more people think they are eating healthy food because they don't realize how much ingredients have changed over the years: soups, for instance. If you buy prepacked dry soup it does not contain much that's healthy, lots of chemicals and lots of corn syrup & transfats - & who would expect that canned tomato soup now contains 1-tomato paste 2-high fructose corn syrup! There really was a time when canned soup was reasonably healthy if somewhat high in sodium. This goes for so many foods that it really is difficult to eat anything prepacked and be healthy. Pretty tough for the 2 parent working family. Vegetables tend to come packed in unhealthy fats and corn syrup, precooked meals the same. Most options just aren't very good unless you have the time & energy to do it yourself. Report
I am not surprised. I often listened to others talking about foods and what's healthy. Most of the time there are misconceptions about what is healthy vs unhealthy. Example, a friend found out that nuts were a healthy choice. She began to eat huge quanities of nuts at a time. She couldn't understand why she was gaining weight.
I am not surprised at all. I think there are still many misconceptions about what really is and isn't healthy. With all these do called natural & no fat foods it can be both confusing, & misleading I still find myself eating a bunch of preprocessed junk even though I know better. I am much more aware now & generally do try to make healthier choices, but for years I was blissfully unaware. Report