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healthy and unhealthy foods on four forks show a continuum from healthy to unhealthy depicting the standard American diet

What Is the Standard American Diet (SAD)?

  blog post author icon   blog post published date icon   12/17/20

Disease  Nutrition  

How aware are you of what's going into your body? Are you eating to live or living to eat? In reality, we all have different nutritional needs, but the standard American diet (SAD) doesn't suit most of them (or most people, for that matter). Your diet might be making you sick, sluggish, and at-risk.

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    But what is the standard American diet, and what is it potentially doing to your health? There's a reason the standard American diet is sad, after all.

    We want to help you reach your optimal state of being by informing you about why your diet might not be serving you. Keep reading to learn all about the issues with the standard American diet (SAD diet) so you can make informed decisions about your health and wellness.

    First: What Is the Standard American Diet (SAD)?

    America catches a lot of flack for the dietary habits of its citizens. We're stereotyped as a burger-eating, sugar-addicted, unhealthy country.

    While the stereotype is a caricature of reality, it's not too far off from the truth.

    The standard American diet is what it sounds like; it's the diet that's been adopted by the average American citizen and normalized in our culture. While we're all taught about the food pyramid as children, most Americans don't follow anything close to it in their day-to-day lives, meaning that they're not meeting their nutritional needs.

    There are several reasons for this.

    The first is the normalization of these habits. If everyone is doing something, it's easy to think that it's an okay thing to do. Why would these foods be available if they weren't healthy?

    Another is poor education on nutritional needs. As people get more educated on health and nutrition, they tend to make changes (even if they're small) to what they put into their bodies.

    Another is that many people are in poor work or financial situations. America has made it so food that is low in nutritional value and easy to make for busy workers is often cheaper than healthy food. In other words, our system is working against us.

    What's The Nutritional Breakdown of the Standard American Diet?

    The standard American diet looks nothing like the food pyramid (and in fact, it's almost inverted).

    While carbohydrates are important for energy, the average American gets 42% of their daily calories from low-quality over-processed carbs like white bread and sugars (which should be eaten in moderation).

    Less than 10% of Americans eat enough fruits and vegetables, meaning that they're missing out on essential vitamins and minerals that help their bodies function correctly.

    Healthy fats are great for the body, but the standard American diet is full of saturated fats such as those from fast food, packaged snacks, and processed frozen meals. These things also tend to be full of excess sodium.

    The standard American diet does tend to be high in protein, but this can be a good or bad thing depending on the individual. 

    What Are Our Nutritional Needs?

    Our nutritional needs vary depending on our activity levels, lifestyle, and bodies. Overall, though, we can base our needs on the food pyramid and the loose guidelines on nutritional labels.

    The average American should eat two and a half cups of vegetables per day, far more than most people get. They should also get two cups of fruit (though they should watch their sugar intake).

    The fruits and vegetables contain many vitamins that are crucial to the body, including vitamin A, vitamin C, niacin, iron, folate, magnesium, fiber, and so much more.

    It's recommended that you get six ounces of grains per day, and that they're whole grains that include fiber, B vitamins, phosphorus, and more.

    Adults should get three cups of dairy (or a dairy equivalent) per day to get vitamin D, calcium, protein, vitamin B12, and various other micronutrients. This dairy should be low in fat.

    Adults should also get the equivalent of five and a half ounces of protein per day, though these needs may increase if they're involved in heavy sports or training.

    Americans, in general, don't get enough calcium, fiber, magnesium, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, or vitamin E.

    Why Is the Standard American Diet Problematic?

    As we mentioned, the standard American diet bears no resemblance to the food pyramid that we're supposed to be following. Furthermore, it doesn't allow for variations in dietary needs.

    Many people don't realize that they have dietary issues while they're eating "normally" because this diet is so prevalent in our culture. Other cultures around the world have more balanced diets, though our influence is having some ill effects.

    You can even look at school lunches and how they're impacting the children of the country and setting them up for failure. Schools that are responsible for keeping our children safe are feeding them unhealthy foods (for reasons of poor funding, lack of time, and lack of knowledge).

    Children have even more specific dietary needs than adults, and school lunches don't account for dietary differences.

    In comparison, school lunches across the globe look more balanced. They often include healthy proteins like fish or lean white meat, a full serving of fruits and vegetables, and low-fat dairy, water, or juice.

    Our unhealthy diets are so ingrained that we're passing them onto our children and setting them up for the same health problems that we're going to face (or are currently facing).

    The following is just a small sample of the health problems that can arise from the standard American diet. These are the SAD (standard American diet) consequences.

    The Sugar Problem

    Americans have too much sugar. We'll touch on several of the more obscure issues that can arise from an abundance of sugar in future sections, but let's talk about the primary offenders.

    Americans eat the equivalent of seventeen teaspoons of sugar per day. It isn't completely our fault. Even foods marketed as healthy (like fruit juices) or savory (like pasta sauces) are often loaded with extra sugars.

    But what harm can sugar do?

    Aside from the obvious problem of rotting out your teeth, sugar causes health problems all over your body.

    It starts with the brain. Sugar is actually addictive. It gives your brain a dopamine hit, and over time you need more and more sugar to get that same level of dopamine.

    When sugar is broken down in the liver, it can cause an excess buildup of fat, causing fatty liver disease.

    Your pancreas, which creates insulin, needs to go into hyperdrive to deal with all of the sugar that you're eating. The increased insulin can affect your arteries, making your heart work harder and set you up for heart disease. You need to protect your vascular health.

    Furthermore, that insulin problem lends itself to type 2 diabetes. In other words, sugar can kill you.


    Our high-carb, high-fat, high-sugar diet is leading to a nation rife with obesity. While other countries are catching up, the United States has a reputation for its overweight population.

    Over 40% of American adults are considered obese. Sugar actually inflames fat cells which causes them to release chemicals that can make you gain weight.

    Obesity leads to a greater potential of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, joint problems, chronic pain, and other forms of illnesses.

    Nutritional Deficiencies

    The standard American diet is deficient in many important nutrients. While you may never notice a nutritional deficiency in any way that seems to "matter" to you, your body will suffer. 

    Anemia is a common result of nutritional deficiency in adults. This can cause you to become sluggish, depressed, and fatigued.

    More serious conditions include scurvy, which comes from a lack of vitamin C. It causes wounds to open and the gums to bleed. Pellegra, a lack of niacin, can cause inflammation in the skin, painful sores, intestinal distress, and even dementia.

    Some people just feel tired all the time, or suffer from poor immune health. In a time where our immune systems are more important than ever, supporting immunity with a healthy diet is crucial.

    Inflammation and Chronic Disease

    There are plenty of things that we put into our bodies that increase inflammation. Not all signs of inflammation are obvious, but they will be as time goes on.

    Inflammation is an important bodily response to foreign entities. It happens when the body needs to heal and reject something bad. When inflammation comes from our food, it means that something that we're eating is harmful to us. This means that poor nutrition and inflammation are linked.

    Inflammation in the skin can lead to faster aging. This kind of inflammation comes from sugar, and it causes collagen to break down.

    Inflammation can also lead to dangerous chronic diseases. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (or COPD) affects 6.4% of Americans and arises from inflammation. Inflammation can influence acquired allergies, cardiovascular disease, and more.

    Removing the inflammatory food in question is important. Many people are intolerant to foods containing gluten, hops, or dairy without even knowing it because these things exist in our diet.

    Elimination diets and plant-based diets have been shown to reduce inflammation as they help to identify offending foods. Plant-based diets in particular tend to be anti-inflammatory.

    Increased Chronic Pain

    Inflammation also leads to chronic pain. When the immune system is activated, it releases cytokines. The American diet lends itself to pro-inflammatory cytokines.

    These cytokines influence conditions such as arthritis and various joint diseases. 

    As we mentioned, obesity is a side-effect of the standard American Diet (SAD). Obesity leads to more strain on the joints due to the increased weight of the body. The standard American diet can also lead to lower activity levels (due to malnutrition), causing joints to go underused and have a harder time recovering. 

    Chronic pain can be reduced through a diet with more balanced nutrition.

    Potential for Degenerative and Terminal Conditions

    Poor nutrition causes long-term health problems, and not all of them can be fixed if they're discovered too late.

    The standard American diet has been linked to an increase in cancer and congestive cardiac failure. There's evidence to suggest that a poor diet increases the risk for Alzheimer's and other forms of mental deterioration.

    What Is There to Do for It? 

    Once you're informed, it's up to you to make changes to your diet. The first step is adopting healthy food habits and weaning yourself off of the dangerous and inflammatory foods that are likely filling your pantry and refrigerator.

    This is also a great time to do some form of natural cleanse or detox. You don't have to cut yourself off cold turkey, but you can make some quick changes that can make a big difference.

    It's also a good idea to start boosting your nutrition with supplements. Even healthy diets can lack important vitamins and minerals, and identifying those is the first step to filling the gaps in your diet.

    You can't change the standard American diet, and it's likely that the problem is going to get worse before it gets better. It's your responsibility to change your own diet and lead a healthier diet with less illness, less inflammation, and a healthier body. If you have a family, encourage them to make healthier choices as well.

    It's not too late to improve your health.

    Do You Follow the Standard American Diet?

    The standard American diet (SAD) is "sad" for a reason. It's not conducive to optimal (or even good) health and wellness. It promotes inflammation, illness, and obesity, and it's led to a country that's making itself sick.

    You can't change America, but you can change yourself. It's time to detox, balance your nutrition, and reach your healthiest self.

    We want to help. We offer supplements, probiotics, and more to help your body reach its full potential. Visit our shop and fill the gaps in your diet.

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