Is nutrition education making Americans fat?

I’ve been working on a new push to eat more fruit and vegetables–I’m aiming for ten servings a day.

This got me thinking about things I observed people eating in Europe. Like the guy in Germany who was eating a plate full of lettuce and tomatoes for breakfast (and nothing else). Or the guy in Italy who had a plate of steamed fennel for lunch (and nothing else). Or the woman who ordered the “vegetarian” meal at La Coupole and was presented with a plate of steamed broccoli and cauliflower–and nothing else.

Or a thread I read once on the Dope where someone said they often just heat up a bag of frozen veg and have that for dinner. And nothing else.

Nutrition education in American public schools teaches you that meals need to have protein, carbohydrates, and fat if they’re to do you any good. As a result I would never eat just vegetables for a meal. And possibly, as a result, I am overweight.

What do you think?

I don’t know if nutrition education can be blamed for making American’s fat, but that fact that obesity is on the rise at the same time that nutrition education is available, means that it is not currently helping either (at least for the people whose weight is rising).

I have been on the South Beach diet for several months and it has been working. I concentrates on veggies on protein, and I have had very little grains or starch.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with a meal of veggies. They are one of the best things for you. You can always balance your diet with some protein or fat at another meal.

This is highly contrary to my experience.

Calorific food is readily available, and people have more more people have more disposable income than they did in the old timey days to spend on it. My 2¢.

That’s called a “salad”. Perfectly fine light meal if you ask me…

Also, food is insanely cheap. I mean, that’s basically the same as what you said, but one of the reasons people have more income to spend on food is that the food costs less.

Check out this graph: Malthusian mouthfuls

Yeah, there’s been a bit of a bump recently, but look at the overall trend just since 1980.

For some people I can see this being a factor depending on which food pyramid was used last time they looked. For a while the food pyramid had something like 11 servings of grains/ starches a day. With most people’s knowledge of what constitutes a healthy grain/ starch being not accurate this would be a ton of carbs.

I don’t think we can blame any one factor alone for the obesity epidemic. I’m leaning towards larger portion sizes driven in part by high fructose corn syrup, diet soda and regular soda over drinking, too much snacking, and people thinking and hearing too much conflicting information about food.

Sometimes I can’t believe how snack driven we are as a society even in schools. We had to provide a snack for our children at school up through 4th grade, also there were snacks at ball practice, snacks at scouts, snacks at church meetings, snacks at every thing they went to. I don’t think it’s good to have people in the habit of eating all the time like that.

It is possible to gain weight on excess amounts of fruit – which is insanely high in calories and sugar – and starchy vegetables.

There’s nothing wrong with eating a meal of nothing but vegetables; I do it all the time. But everything in moderation. You still need lean proteins from somewhere, or you need to find someone who can teach you how to prepare vegetarian/vegan meals that will meet your nutritional requirements, or at least a good cookbook.

In any event, the secret to a healthy diet is, in fact, moderation. It’s possible to eat pizza and lose weight. Just drop the greasy meat toppings in favor of vegetables, and limit yourself to one slice. Ditto for chocolate and any other “junk” food you can think of. Eat it, just don’t eat so much of it!

I’ve mentioned in other threads that this (IMO) is one of the primary reasons Americans are so fat – food is dirt cheap. The other primary reason is the proliferation of fast food restaurants. Though this may be the result of food being so cheap.

If you want to reverse the obesity epidemic in America, put a 100% tax on all food products. (I’m not advocating this, obviously. But I have no doubt it would work.)

This graph is a bit more telling. It shows food expenditures as a share of disposable income from 1929 to 2009.

Thanks. I tried to find something like that but my Google fu failed me.

I’ve been on a low-carb/South Beach-esque diet for over a year, and it kills me how much of the grocery store is off-limits to me – in other words, most of the food we sell in grocery stores today is sugary or starchy junk. An entire aisle, sometimes two, of chips and snack food. Another entire aisle of cereal. The candy aisle. The cookie/cracker/twinkie aisle. The soda aisle. Even Whole Foods is a joke – “healthy” chips and granola bars made with organic ingredients are still full of sugar and unneeded carbs; don’t kid yourself.

I look at this and think, well shit, there’s our problem.

I don’t think there would be so many fast food restaurants if food were not so cheap. Or, if there were, they would be different from the fast food restaurants we have now.

Food being cheap also gives restaurants an incentive to serve larger portions. They can get a reputation for giving people a lot of food for not very much money, which most people think is a desirable thing, at not much cost to them. That’s a win-win for the restaurant. But it means people get used to eating more food at each meal. If you start eating more at every meal, with no change in what kind of food you’re eating, of course you’re going to gain weight.

What’s really a problem, IMO, is when you have food attitudes from a time when food wasn’t cheap and abundant, in a setting where food actually is cheap and abundant. “Clean your plate” isn’t the right response when you’re eating in a restaurant that serves a 2000 calorie plate of food (as casual chain restaurants in the US do), especially not if you’re eating at that kind of restaurant several times a week (as many Americans do). If you’re overweight, seeking out ways to get a lot of food for little money may not be what you should be doing, since you’d be better off eating less food. But if attitudes like “clean your plate, even if you’re feeling full,” “don’t waste food,” and “a lot of food for little money is a good thing” since childhood, you’re going to have trouble throwing off those ideas, even when those ideas are not helping you live in the world as it is now.

I know this, from personal experience. I’ve been trying for a couple of years to train myself out of cleaning my plate. It hasn’t been easy. I was raised by a mother who was a child in the 1940s, right at the spike in that graph of food expenditures as a percentage of income. She would have picked up attitudes toward food that would be suitable to an environment where food is not cheap and plentiful. Then she taught those attitudes to her children, who live in an environment that’s pretty much the opposite. My sister and I both struggle with being overweight, not too surprisingly. It’s as if we were raised in Siberia, where we presumably would have been taught lots of ways to stay warm, then moved to Florida, where it is generally not difficult to stay warm. Behaviors that would be suitable in Siberia might lead to heatstroke or other problems in Florida’s very different environment.

I’m not blaming my mother, or anybody else who grew up during World War II, here. They were doing what they thought was best, and adapting to a new environment is almost always difficult. But I’m not planning to try to pass the same attitudes toward food that I learned from my parents on to my child. We live in a different environment now.

Incidentally, this is what my mom does, and it works. She eats ten servings of fruits and veggies every day, and whatever else she wants. It’s flexible enough to make it easy to stay on long-term, which I think is the key: Too many people diet to lose weight, and then having lost the weight, go back off the diet.

That is more or less what I was taught in Home Ec in the mid 70s. What the diner trade calls a 3 plop meal - meat and 1 starch [usually mashed potatoes or potatoes in some form] and 2 plops of veggies that have been boiled to death. I am so damned glad that ‘lightly steamed veggies’ finally became fashionable.

I remember when Matt and I were working an odd swing shift at ADT in the call center. We would have to bring a meal or order takeout and then keep it in the break room fridge until we got to eat sometime after midnight. We kept losing pizza until we hit upon the idea of a white alfredo sauce with loads of veggies :smiley: Seems nobody would steal our pizza after that :smiley:

Try being diabetic and allergic to tropical/palm/coconut, mushrooms[also found as ‘natural flavors’] and bivalves [clam juice is used to boost seafoody flavors and provide umami in the form of fish sauce]

I absolutely detest when people suggest loading kids up with juice as a ‘healthy alternate to soda’. All it is is pretty much fruit flavored sugar water even if it is pure fresh squooze orange juice. Then the little anklebiters sit in front of the tv or computer or game console blimping out. If you have them eat an orange at least they get fiber along with it.

I would guess that most people that eat meat, fats, and loads of carbs at every meal are doing so because they like it, not because they think it is nutritionally necessary. I’m a vegetarian and even I think that a plate of broccoli and cauliflower or steamed fennel would make for a pretty boring dinner.

What vegetarian dishes do you look forward to? The hardest part about South Beach is the eventual boredom with what I am eating. Currently snacking on bell peppers. :rolleyes:

When this diet is scheduled to end in August (with me at my goal weight), I will continue with mostly the same diet, just a bit more variety and a bit more food, while carefully monitoring my weight. This is my second major weight loss in my life, and I do not want to get to try #3.

There’s also a facts/information/don’t-tell-me-what-to-do factor to consider here.

Americans (and Canadians, and I’m sure others, but let’s keep it to the USA for now) as a culture like to do what they want and don’t like being told that they are wrong. Ever. About anything. So being able to do what you want means being allowed to eat whatever you want, and there’s a backlash against those who would suggest that they not do that, even if they are correct in their facts that eating Big Macs and pizza for 5 daily meals isn’t part of a healthy diet.

Look at the (distorted and hyperbolic) debate on whether or not pizza (tomato paste) is a vegetable, and how much counts. The problem is that if it was accepted that tomato paste isn’t a vegetable (in more concentrated format), then that would mean that something that they like wouldn’t be allowed in schools (or as much/frequently) and that isn’t acceptable. It’s counter to the idea of “freedom.”

It’s only part of the story, but it’s certainly a factor that should be considered when looking at the obesity epedemic.

  1. It is alleged that things like the old food pyramid and such were influenced by research on animals that was linked to figuring out how to fatten a pig/cow/etc. cheaply in the least amount of time. I.e., if you wanted to fatten humans (It’s a cookbook!) then following the FDA guidelines was the way to go.

I don’t think this really holds up too much.

People know (for the most part) what’s healthy and what isn’t. They just don’t care and eat crap anyway. No obese-American pays any attention to food pyramids. There are exceptions: I have run into way too many people who keep gaining weight despite “just ordering a salad”. They have no idea that typical fast food salads are just as bad as the bacon cheeseburger.

  1. People are eating out a lot more. A lot. Home cooking is dying.

The economics of big servings at restaurants is part of this. Most of the cost of a meal goes to the building, the staff, other fixed overhead. The actual cost of the food in the meal is trivial. So they double the meal size and charge 40% more. A big win for them. People look at that and go “Oh, what a bargain! I’ll double size. I’d be a fool not to.”

  1. Bread and Circuses. The culture has been sucked into a distraction vacuum. Social Security going bankrupt? Endless war? War on drugs failing?

Hey, folks, look: Someone just came out with a 3000 calorie bacon cheeseburger! You can eat that while watching the Kardashians! Your worries are gone!

The media is not at all surprisingly helpful is perpetuating Bread and Circuses. As are politicians (of all stripes). Insert Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire comparisons here.

True. A lot of Americans also don’t like schools telling kids that what their parents are doing is wrong, or even less than optimal. Kids can’t eat pizza and Big Macs for every meal without at the very least acquiescence, if not approval, from their parents. Telling those kids that eating that way is not good is going to involve telling them that their parents are wrong, there’s just no way around that. And that’s going to make some parents angry.

To make matters worse, the schools aren’t telling the kids that their parents are wrong on some inconsequential matter. Food is a big part of culture. The schools are effectively telling kids that some part of the culture their parents are passing on to them is not so good. Parents are going to get upset at that.

Complicating things even further, if public schools are telling kids something about nutrition, the government has to get involved. Said government is made up of the politicians who get contributions from various food interests. Those food interests are not going to want the public schools telling kids to eat less of their products, whatever the health merits or lack thereof of those products.

Then throw in the fact that nutrition and a healthy diet are the subject of ongoing research and debate. Is a low-fat diet better or worse than a low-carb diet? Are saturated fats good or bad for you? There’s no scientific consensus. With sex education, at least there is a scientific consensus on how women get pregnant and how sexually transmitted diseases are spread. That consensus isn’t there in the field of nutrition.