Do As I Say, Not As I Do: the Dichotomy Between What We Think is Healthy and What We Eat

Back in 2014, I discovered that 75% of Americans say they try to eat antioxidant-containing foods, but 92% can’t successfully define what an antioxidant is, and 91% can’t name at least one food that is rich in antioxidants. Since then, I’ve been fascinated by the gaping differences between what people say they care about and what they eat.

If you ask Americans what concerns them about their diet, they will tell you:

  • 66% – I’m concerned about my health in general
  • 44% – Some of the food I eat has too much of something I need to avoid
  • 22% – The foods I eat aren’t nutritious enough in general
  • 19% – I’m not getting enough of the specific nutrients I need
  • 18% – I have a particular health concern that affects my food choices

If you ask Americans what they look for when purchasing food:

  • 42% say low-sodium
  • 38% say whole grain
  • 37% report low sugar
  • 25% report high fiber
  • 35% say no trans-fat
  • 34% say no artificial ingredients
  • 34% say no preservatives

As published in Business Insider, here’s the share of food and drink products in the average household’s grocery budget:

  • 15.8% snacks and candy
  • 12.8% meat and protein
  • 10.7% of dairy products other than milk (so, mostly cheese)
  • 9.1% of fruits and vegetables
  • 8.5% grains, pasta, and bread
  • 7.5% packaged meals
  • 6.2% cold beverages
  • 5.3% breakfast cereal
  • 5.3% soda
  • 4.7% milk
  • 4.0% canned food
  • 3.9% condiments
  • 3.4% warm beverages
  • 3.3% baking goods

What’s in the average American’s shopping cart? Potato chips, candy, meat, and cheese. But their most significant concerns are buying low-sodium, whole grain, and low-sugar foods. Let’s all think about that for a minute.

If you look at the top five foods and beverages mentioned on social media, you will find that they are:

  1. Skittles
  2. Budweiser
  3. Red Bull
  4. Pringles
  5. Coca-Cola

Does anyone want to guess what cereal is most said on social media sites? Cinnamon Toast Crunch. People are very concerned about the GMOs in Kashi cereal, but not all that concerned that 21% of the calories in Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal come from fat, and 28% come from straight sugar (more than two teaspoons in a ¾ cup portion). Or that the sugar and fat are accompanied by no fiber, no protein, and barely any vitamins or minerals.

A whopping 89% of shoppers believe that eating at home is healthier than eating at a restaurant. Yet nearly half of food dollars are spent eating out. The average meal at a sit-down restaurant chain contains 1,128 calories, and the average fast food meal contains 881 calories. On average, sit-down restaurant meals also held 151% of recommended daily salt intake and 89% of daily fat limits.

A key finding from a survey done by the International Food Information Council Foundation points out: “Most millennials acknowledged the importance of eating healthfully, but all admit they do not always eat as healthfully as they would like. While most picture a healthful meal consisting of lean meats and starch along with fruits, vegetables, or a salad, many millennials say their actual meals are more likely to consist of red meats or fried foods, with few or no vegetables or produce. Accordingly, the average grade they give the healthfulness of their eating is a C+.” On a 5-point scale, Millennials rank eating healthfully as a 3.7 concerning importance. In another study, 74% of all people (regardless of age) said the food they eat at home could be healthier.

Many people express distrust in nutrition and health information provided by governmental bodies but are quite willing to put their trust in a blog written by someone who earned (at best) a “certificate” in nutrition or holistic health. This is especially true if several bloggers agree on the same thing (regardless of their qualifications for making any health or nutrition claims). So, if tomorrow morning, 20 bloggers and pinners decide that water is the actual cause of the obesity epidemic, water is in big, big trouble.

These are the facts about common excuses that people give for not eating healthier:

  • TIME: It takes between 60 and 90 minutes to look at a menu, order food, wait for your meal to come, eat your meal, wait for your bill to come, and pay for your food at a sit-down restaurant. It takes 10 minutes to broil salmon, 5 minutes to steam broccoli, and 10 seconds to wash an apple.
  • MONEY: The minimum daily cost of eating 4 ½ cups of fruits and vegetables per day is $2.10. This accounts for one apple, one orange, ½ cup romaine lettuce, ½ cup carrots, ½ cup Roma tomato, ½ cup canned corn, and a ½ cup frozen green beans. A bag of potato chips is usually around $2.00, and a 20 oz soft drink is about $1.25.
  • I LIVE ALONE, AND DON’T KNOW HOW TO COOK FOR ONE: Salmon burgers, tuna fish, veggie burgers, eggs, oatmeal, sandwiches on whole-wheat bread, sweet potatoes, Greek yogurt and fruit parfaits, salad, Naan flatbreads topped with lots of veggies with a little sauce and cheese, single-serve bowls of brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, bean soup…

At some point, it becomes necessary to take a brutally honest look at what you say your priorities are and how that aligns with your actions. Small steps are better than no steps. One more meal cooked at home this week, one more mile walked, one more vegetable eaten today, because if you don’t have your health, what do you have?