Rate your diet on a scale of 0 to 100 using the phytochemical index and compare your score to the standard American diet.
Image thanks to desktopwallpaper.org
A few years ago a proposal was published for a healthy eating index and I though it might be interesting to look at the latest USDA dietary survey to see how the standard American Diet is doing. The index is simple, it’s a score of 0 to 100 which simply represents the percent of dietary calories derived from foods rich in phytochemicals. Phytochemical is just a more technical term for phytonutrient, since nutrient implies essential for life, whereas phytochemicals are merely essential for a long healthy life.
So if 1% of your diet is composed of phytonutrient-rich food your diet gets a score of 1. If that’s where half your calories come from then your score is 50 and if that’s all you eat, you max out at 100, 100%. How are Jane and Joe sixpack doing?
Here is the latest data on the standard American diet: 3% of calories come from beans and nuts, 3% from fruit, 5% is vegetables, 23% from grain, 17% is added sugars, like candy and soda and other junk. 23% comes from added fats, butter, margarine, oil, and shortening, and 26% of the American diet is meat, dairy, and eggs.
For the healthy eating index we only get to count phytonutrient-rich foods, since they’re the ones most associated with chronic disease prevention, treatment, and cure. So, first off, the reason they’re called phytonutrients is that by definition they are found in plants, derived from the Greek word “phyton,” for plant. So automatically we start with a score of 74. Neither lard nor candy are phytonutrient rich, so taking away the added fats and oils, we’re down to 34. But the grain category is a combination of both whole grains—rich in phytonutrients, and refined grains, which had the phytonutrients largely removed. Of the 24, only 4% of the American diet is composed of whole grains, oats, barley, whole wheat, brown rice, and the rest is highly processed garbage like white flour and corn starch.
Yikes, down to 15! But it gets worse. 2/3 of our vegetables are white potatoes, half of which are potato chips. The average American eats 23 calories of potato chips every day. But none of the white potato products count, since they contain very few phytonutrients.
Similarly, a third of our fruit calories are low-phytonutrient juices and a third are from bananas, which are pretty pitiful, but we’ll give it to them. So the typical American diet rates an 11. So on a scale of like 1 to 10 we get about a 1.
How do you score a perfect ten? “Theoretically, a vegan diet that excluded refined grains, potato products, hard liquors, and added sugars and oils could have a perfect dietary index rating of 100. Sadly, the score of most current American diets would be unlikely to be as high as 20–yeah we wish it were 20—which means that there is quite ample room for improvement.”
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Dianne Moore.
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For some context, please check out my associated blog posts: How to live longer in four easy steps, Preserving Vision Through Diet, Is Caffeinated Tea Really Dehydrating?,NutritionFacts.org: the first month, Diet vs. Exercise: What’s More Important?, Diet vs. Exercise: What’s More Important?, and Best Nutrition Bang for Your Buck