How Americans Eat: 1970 vs 2014 in 11 Charts

The USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) released a report earlier this year that “examines the amount of food available for consumption and related food trends in the United States from 1970 to 2014”. It contains a lot of nice charts that really illustrate how drastically we have shifted our dietary patterns over the past 40+ years.

If you are just dying to read the 14,300-word report, you can check out the full publication below.

U.S. Trends in Food Availability and a Dietary Assessment of Loss-Adjusted Food Availability, 1970-2014

 

Methodology: How did they obtain these numbers?

 

Big changes in dietary patterns

We went from eating an average of 2,016 to 2,390 calories per day — a 374 calorie increase.

 

Fruit is making a comeback…

...but we still only eat ~0.9 cups a day, a little less than half the recommended intake.

 

We’re ruining too many pizzas with pineapple

“Pineapple availability grew from 0.7 pounds in 1970 to 7.2 pounds in 2014.” Your pizzas deserve better than this. Shame on you.

 

Vegetable intake is dropping

We hit “peak vegetable” in 2004 and have steadily declined since. We eat ~1.6 cups a day but should be hitting 2.5 cups a day. That puts us 66% under the recommended intake. Go eat some carrots!

 

Americans love potatoes

While total potato product availability stayed mostly the same, frozen potato product availability increased by 62%.

 

Don’t be fooled by the post-2010 drop in total grain consumption

Per the report: “the database contains significant gaps for whole grains (such as popcorn, whole-grain products, and other whole grains) and no longer has data on rice since 2010, the data cannot provide a comprehensive estimate of the per capita consumption.”

 

We seem to be eating fewer protein products…

…but the data does not account for seeds or soy products.

 

Dairy is the comeback kid

My favorite vegetable is dairy.

 

We consume too many added fats and oils…

…and we probably underestimated consumption prior to 2000, when reporting methodology changed.

 

We’re eating less sugar

Since the record high in 1999, we’ve seen a 14% drop. But we’re still consuming 10% more compared to 1970.

 

All in all, Americans are eating too much

 

Bonus Chart: Discretionary calories (i.e., the “fun” calories)

Everyone has a little room in their diet for indulgent foods. Just how many depends on your daily caloric needs and how nutrient-dense your diet it. The report elaborates:

The Healthy U.S.-Style Eating Pattern includes 12 calorie levels to meet the needs of individuals across their lifespans … If all food choices across food groups are in nutrient-dense forms, a small number of calories remain available for consumption of other foods (“limit on calories for other uses”) … consumers can use these “calories for other uses” for consumption of added sugars, added refined starches, solid fats, alcohol (up to one drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men), or to eat more than the recommended amount of food from a food group.