The typical American diet has become a bit of a joke – large portion sizes of fried and fatty foods and big sugary drinks. But the current status of American food and beverage consumption is no laughing matter. Americans are falling well short of dietary recommendations and are consuming diets that may be detrimental to their wellbeing. Sixty percent of adults have one or more dietary-related chronic diseases and 40 percent have two or more. 

This is not just a concern for adults, it is also impacting our youth. The foods and beverages individuals consume impact their health across the entire lifespan and dietary habits and patterns are established early. Poor diet quality is seen in young children, with nearly 90 percent of toddlers falling short of recommended vegetable intake and 95 percent failing to meet whole grain recommendations. 

America’s Real Deficiency

Underconsumption of fiber, one of the dietary components of public health concern in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, is seen as early as age two. Those low intakes continue throughout the lifespan. More than 90 percent of women and 97 percent of men do not meet recommended dietary fiber intake. 

Simple Strategies to Increase Fiber Intake

These numbers can seem daunting. And while it is true that most people need to make changes in their food and beverage choices, those choices do not need to be extreme. 

  1. Try eating plant-based once a day: One strategy is to have at least one plant-based meal a day, replacing high-fat meat with plant-based protein options, including beans, peas, tofu, tempeh, lentils, and other plant-based proteins. These powerhouse foods also contain fiber and potassium, two nutrients of concern in the Dietary Guidelines; numerous minerals including copper, phosphorus, manganese, and magnesium; thiamin and folic acid; and many are also rich sources of iron. Beans, peas, and lentils are also satiating, meaning they help you feel full, due to their protein and fiber content. 
  2. Check out plant-based foods available in stores near you: There are numerous plant-based products available to meet a wide variety of taste preferences including plant-based burgers, crumbles, tenders, and nuggets. Snacks are also a great time to incorporate plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and plant-based proteins. The next time you are grocery shopping, check out the wide variety of plant-based foods. 

Making these steps towards more plant-based foods can pay off. Compared with typical U.S. diets, healthy plant-based diets are associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers.

Resources to get started

Need some extra motivation? Transitioning toward a plant-based diet not only has personal benefits, but it can also benefit the environment as well. Because of their lower environmental footprint, predominantly plant-based diets would help reduce the health impacts of climate change, air pollution, water contamination, and other environmental events, which are associated with a higher risk of developing illnesses, such as inflammatory diseases and allergies. Increased consumption of plant-based foods – and a consequent reduction of animal-based products – is also crucial to prevent future disease outbreaks of zoonotic nature, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a win all around!

About Jennifer Weber
Jennifer A. Weber, MPH, RD, is the President and Founding Principal of Weber Moore Partners, LLC., which specializes in food, nutrition, and health policy and program development, analysis, advocacy, and implementation. She is an advocate for children’s health and well-being with experience building effective strategies and partnerships. Jennifer has previously worked in the non-profit, association, and government sectors, including the American Heart Association, Nemours Children’s Health, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She is also an Adjunct Professor at George Washington University and Marymount University. Jennifer earned an MPH in Nutrition from the University of Michigan, and a BS in dietetics from Iowa State University.