Dietary Patterns

Fruit and vegetable intake, although rising, is still below the five servings per day recommended in the USDA's Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The average American eats one and one-half servings of vegetables and one serving of fruit per day. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, consumption of milk and eggs has been declining, while cheese consumption has gone up. Meat, poultry, and fish intake has climbed dramatically. Grain and cereal consumption has also risen. Vegetable fats are increasingly being used instead of animal fats, but total fat consumption is still high.

Sixty percent of Americans eat snack food regularly, consuming about 20 percent of their calories from snacks. Because half of young adults skip breakfast, and one-fourth skip lunch, between-meal eating contributes significantly to the daily nutrient intakes of Americans. Children, in particular, require several small meals per day, as their stomachs cannot hold large amounts of food at one time. Carefully chosen snacks can add to good dietary habits. Most Americans, however, do not snack wisely.

More than 30 percent of men and more than 40 percent of women take a daily multivitamin/mineral supplement. Doses of about 100 percent of the Daily Value (DV) of most nutrients are common in these supplements. Although nutrition experts agree that the average American does not need supplements, there is little harm in taking them. Problems can arise, however, when individual nutrients are taken. Megadoses of certain minerals and relatively low supplemental doses of certain fat-soluble vitamins can lead to toxicity. For example, a surplus of vitamin A can lead to cheilitis (cracking and inflammation of the lips), dryness of the nasal mucosa and eyes, hair loss, and, eventually, liver damage. Megadoses of vitamin D can lead to the calcification of soft tissues, such as the lungs, heart, and kidneys.

diet: the total daily food intake, or the types of foods eaten fat: type of food molecule rich in carbon and hydrogen, with high energy content calorie: unit of food energy nutrient: dietary substance necessary for health nutrition: the maintenance of health through proper eating, or the study of same mineral: an inorganic (non-carbon-containing) element, ion or compound vitamin: necessary complex nutrient used to aid enzymes or other metabolic processes in the cell mucosa: moist exchange surface within the body vitamin D: nutrient needed for calcium uptake and therefore proper bone formation

An average American consumes more than fifty pounds of artificial sweeteners per year, which is a 300 percent increase since 1965. Much of the increase is due to the popularity of diet soft drinks. [Photograph by Kelly A. Quin. Reproduced by permission.]

overweight: weight above the accepted norm based on height, sex, and age calcium: mineral essential for bones and teeth convenience food: food that requires very little preparation for eating fast-food: food requiring minimal preparation before eating, or food delivered very quickly after ordering in a restaurant

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