Oh, America. You think you’re doing so well with your paleo-Mediterranean-gluten-free-juice-cleanse diet, but I hate to break it to you, science says you’re not.
Damn that science, it strikes again.
A survey of more than 3,000 consumers commissioned by DSM nutrition products recently found that there’s a big disconnect between Americans’ perception of their nutrition and the reality (i.e., you think you’re eating well, but your confidence is misplaced). And according to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans Committee, only 10 percent of Americans actually get the nutrients they need.
Ten percent! As in, one-zero.
Think about it this way: If you randomly select nine of your closest friends (or if you don’t have friends, just nine other humans) and get together in a room, only one of you — one! — is properly fed and fueled.
Is it you? … Are you sure?
I can see you mentally cataloging everything you ate today going, “Well… I had that side salad. And I said no to the office donuts in favor of a gluten-free protein bar. Surely I’m doing OK?” as you wring your hands and feel confused. Don’t worry, you’re not alone — you can count your confusion as part of the majority. Even the stats are confusing!
Take for instance the fact that according to the DSM survey, 57 percent of Americans think they’re getting the recommended level of essential nutrients, while half of them are still confused about the science behind nutritional recommendations. Then, if you put those stats into the larger context — that 57 percent of Americans think they’re getting the right nutrients, but only 10 percent actually are — it becomes pretty clear that the vast majority of those who think they’re eating well, probably aren’t. And it’s probably because almost everyone’s confused about nutritional recommendations.
Uh-oh. If you weren’t already confused, you probably are now.
The good news is: Americans are interested in eating well. They want to provide nutritious foods to their families, and parents tend to prioritize their children’s nutrition over their own — so there is hope for the future.
The real key is to pay attention to the big picture, rather than allowing fads and the “superfood of the week” to distract you. Elizabeth Somer, a registered dietician and advisory board member for Shape Magazine, explains the nutritional disconnect this way, “People are exposed to a wide variety of sources on nutrition, most of which are inaccurate. Food companies also use misinformation to promote their products. The media latches onto a study here and there, which makes a nutrient headline material and everyone focuses on that nutrient or that one superfood, and loses sight of the bigger picture.”
As much as we all want a magic bullet or an easy fix, there’s not a shortcut when it comes to eating well. “Sound, accurate nutrition guidelines have not changed dramatically in the last several decades. If people focused on real, unprocessed foods and filled at least half of every plate with fresh, colorful fruits and veggies, they would be well on their way to eating healthfully,” Somer explains.
In other words, it doesn’t matter that your favorite protein bar says “gluten-free” on it or that your child’s sugary cereal box says, “Whole grains!” across the front. These processed foods simply don’t offer the same well-rounded combination of natural macro and micronutrients that come from foods taken straight from nature. In fact, Somer says, “Never believe any claim on the front of the label. Most of the time, those claims are a red flag the food is not worth eating. Always go to the back of the label and read the ingredient list and the nutritional information very carefully.”
OK, so real food, fruits and veggies. Check, check, check. But how do you really know if you’re getting the proper level of nutrition from your diet?
The answer is twofold:
First, you probably aren’t, Somer confirms. “Every national nutrition survey from the 1960s to modern day, repeatedly and consistently finds that Americans are eating diets low in just about everything, from vitamin A to zinc.” So it’s probably best to assume you’re not getting all your nutrients every day.
The second part of the answer boils down to how to fix the problem. “Anyone worth their weight in nutrition credentials will tell you to go to food first (as described above), but the reality is, no one is doing that. You can fill in the gaps on the days when you don’t eat perfectly with a multivitamin, a calcium-magnesium, extra vitamin D, and a DHA supplement; it’s an inexpensive way to cover at least some of your nutritional bases.”