Jun 11, 2014 11:45 PM

Author: Office of Public Affairs

What foods do you eat most often? If you said chicken, pizza and french fries, you’re not alone. A new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service reveals the most commonly consumed foods by Americans. 

What’s our favorite meat? It’s chicken. Since 1970, the amount of chicken available per person in the U.S. has more than doubled, according to the report. Chicken wasn’t a popular meat source until the 1940s when poultry consumption began to climb. It overtook pork in 1996 and beef in 2008.

The most commonly consumed vegetable: potatoes. Americans consumed 52.3 pounds of them per person in 2012, with half as fresh potatoes and half as frozen or as chips. In second place, Americans ate 31.1 pounds of tomatoes per person, more than half of which came from cans. Unfortunately, our love of french fries and pizza is to blame for the high consumption of these two vegetables.

Fruit is tricky. We consume more oranges than any other fruit, but mostly in the form of orange juice: 2.8 gallons per person in 2012. As for fresh fruits, bananas and apples are neck and neck. Overall, fresh fruit consumption was down from 131.3 pounds per person in 1999 to 107.6 pounds in 2012.

American’s favorite cheese is mozzarella, followed closely by cheddar. The amount of cheese in the U.S. food market has nearly tripled since 1970, according to the report, with mozzarella and cheddar accounting for well over half of cheese availability in 2012. The report cites the increasing popularity of Italian and Mexican cuisines, and packaging that makes cheese more convenient.

Calorie Alert

The data show we are consuming more calories a day than 40 years ago: 2,109 in 1970 compared with 2,568 in 2010. Most of the increase stems from refined grains and added fat and oil.

“[This] means that grains and breads we choose are most often not whole grains,” explains Julie Metos, PhD, RD, an assistant professor and the interim chair of the Division of Nutrition at the University of Utah College of Health.

Furthermore, Americans are not meeting government guidelines for a healthy diet. In contrast to the USDA’s MyPlate recommendations, the average person eats too much meat and grains and not enough veggies, fruits or dairy.

But here’s some good news: We’re consuming less sugar. The amount of caloric sweeteners available for consumption has been falling since 1999. Why? The popularity of zero-calorie drinks means we’re consuming less corn sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup.

Healthy Eating Tips

Metos offers these tips for getting your diet in balance:

  • Use meat as a condiment. Prepare vegetables and fruit as the main plate, and mix in 2 to 3 ounces of protein-rich foods such as beef or poultry.
  • Reduce your consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. 
  • Pack healthy snacks with you so you’re not tempted to buy high-fat, high-sugar snacks like cookies and candy. Suggestions: nuts, fruit, cheese sticks, yogurt, vegetables with salsa or hummus, and whole-grain chips.
  • Instead of french fries and tater tots, try other ways to prepare potatoes such as baking, grilling, roasting and boiling. And include more vegetables on your pizza.
  • Choose whole-grain bread, brown rice and pasta, and try other grains like farrow, couscous and quinoa

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