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posted: 11/12/2013 6:00 AM

Lean and lovin' it: Grading our nation's changing diet

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  • Cannelli beans stand in for chickpeas in a hummus-like dip for chips for vegetables.

    Cannelli beans stand in for chickpeas in a hummus-like dip for chips for vegetables.


Earlier this year, Bonnie Liebman, director of nutrition at Nutrition Action Healthletter, created a nutritional report card covering 1970 to 2010. Using USDA statistics she looked at the changing American diet and noted, "This isn't a report card you'd want to post on the fridge."

Liebman's right about that.

Think back on your daily food plan during the last 40 years. If you're like most Americans it would appear that you've cut back on sugars (cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, honey, maple syrup, agave syrup, etc.), but it was a roller-coaster ride to get to 2010 and the drop in consumption might even be an aberration.

From 1970 to 1999, our consumption of sugars went from about 70 pounds per person to 89 pounds in 1999. In 2010 it dropped to 78 pounds. A significant change, if it's accurate.

However, according to an October 2012 New York Times article, the USDA has changed how it makes its estimates and due to changes in how much sugars are "thrown away," revised its consumption formula downward. Ta-da! Lower sugars consumption. This was sweet news for sugars companies tired of taking the heat for America's obesity issue. Even at 78 pounds per year, Liebman gave Americans a D+ for sweeteners.

How about fats? Have you been reducing the fats in your food plan over the last 40 years? I know I have.

According to Liebman's statistical tracking we're using less margarine (yesteryear's trans fat "bad boy") as well as showing a significant downward use of shortening from 2005 to 2010. All good.

Salad and cooking oil use is up; way up, going from about 20 pounds per person in 1999 to 37 pounds (about 22 quarts) in 2010. Olive and other vegetable oils can be our friends, but if that friend list starts to bloat-up like our Facebook page, it may be too much. Even so, Liebman gives us a B+.

How does Liebman think we're doing on fruits and vegetables? After remaining fairly static from 1970 to 1980, our vegetables consumption (not counting potatoes) has gone up, and although it was a somewhat bumpy ride, it was still up in 2010. Our potato consumption (fresh plus frozen) has been fairly flat for the last 40 years. Fruit (minus fruit juice) is up only slightly. For veggies and fruit Liebman gives us a B-.

What I find very interesting is that total milk consumption dropped significantly from 21 gallons per year to 13. The biggest drop was in whole milk, which "plummeted" from 18 gallons per year in 1970 to a mere 4 by 2010. It appears that cheese picked-up that butterfat drop though, going from 8 pounds per person in 1970 to 23 pounds in 2010. For that unfortunate shift, Liebman gave us a C-.

How we're doing on calories should be obvious from those shifting sands of foodstuff statistics. By consuming more grains, oils and fats we've gone from consuming an average of 2,075 calories per day to 2,535 a day in 2010. Liebman lets us self-grade on that one.

And still, some wonder why our country has a weight issue. Looking at these numbers it seems pretty clear to me.

Try this recipe: Looking for a dip that's healthy, low in fat, tasty, easy to make and works well with holiday crudites or crackers? Look no further.

• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write him at

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