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The Standard American Diet and Why it Makes us Fat – by Shoshana Levinson, MS., cDN.

November 11, 2010

The Standard American Diet that I’ll refer to as SAD, is one that has too many calories, too much sugar and refined carbohydrate, too little of the good fats, and is woefully short on vegetables and fruit.

Two thirds of the calories that Americans eat come from refined and processed foods. These foods have reduced levels of vitamins, minerals, essential fats and fiber, all of which are necessary for good health and weight loss.

Whole wheat flour, for example, has more than 24 nutrients and fiber, which are mostly removed during the process of bleaching. When the manufacturer replaces only 4 nutrients back into the flour, they can, by law, call it “enriched”.

When we choose to eat white bread or “enriched” bread we are only receiving 16% of the bread’s original nutritional benefit. The loss of important nutrients such as B vitamins and chromium, both important for blood sugar balance, can have negative effects on the metabolism. And reduced fiber can lower our feeling of fullness, which can encourage overeating. My recommendation is to always choose the least processed and most natural version of foods. The nutrients found in them keep metabolism high and also help the body burn fat naturally.

Another problem with the typical American diet is that we eat too much of the wrong kinds of fat. Americans are currently eating between 4 and 5 Tablespoons daily of processed fats. Fats are high in calories and play a major role in weight gain and illness, but let’s remember that good fats are essential to health. One tablespoon each day of essential fat is necessary to make new cells, maintain a strong immune system, nervous system, and to produce hormones within the body. Just as the amount of fat in the diet is of concern, the kinds of fats we eat are also of great importance. My recommendations include: Flax and walnut oil in non heat recipes, Olive and Canola oil for sautéing, Canola oil in baking, and Peanut oil for high heat stir frying.

Buy minimally processed oils. Supermarket oils that are overly refined can obstruct the body’s ability to produce a type of hormone called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins can stimulate your body to burn fat for energy, so it is a very important factor for permanent weight loss. To get all of these good, fat burning prostaglandins, choose oils that are “virgin” or “cold pressed”, and keep them refrigerated. Remember to avoid all kinds of hydrogenated fats.

Regarding proteins, my suggestion is to eat only small amounts of the full fat dairy, and red meats. Your white meat chicken and turkey and seafood have the least amount of fat, and along with fish like salmon, herring and sardines, rich in good fats, should be eaten often. Eat organic dairy and meats whenever possible.

I couldn’t be speaking about the imbalanced American diet without some thoughts on sugar. Americans now eat 140 pounds of this highly processed carbohydrate annually. That calculates to 12 pounds per month, for every man, woman and child, which is more than 2, 5 lb. bags of sugar every 4 weeks! Eating quantities of refined sugar has been associated with fatigue, instable blood sugar and excessive cravings for carbohydrates.

In my audio CD, “Mindful Eating – Making Peace with Food” I discuss that Americans have made a choice to be mindless eaters, where we are always in a hurry and having to grab and go. There is no question that this style of eating is associated with overeating, poor digestion, and obesity. We have convinced ourselves that we don’t have time for cooking or eating or family dinners any longer. This kind of thinking undermines our health, to be sure.

In the video documentary “Supersize Me” Morgan Spurlock creates an experiment. He puts himself on a nothing but fast food diet for 30 days, and he is followed medically by 2 doctors and a nutritionist.  This healthy, slim young man, in less than 1 month, ends up with diagnoses of fatty liver, addiction to sugar and a 30 pound weight gain! Although few of us would admit to eating exclusively fast food, our standard American diet, being mostly processed, laden with sugar, refined starches, bad fats and excess calories, certainly is moving us towards the same outcome …just at a slower rate. I would highly recommend that you see this video, and watch it with the whole family. It is full of “food for thought”.

There is no question that supersizing of America’s portions is one of many causes for the obesity epidemic that we are experiencing in America. The real question is how do we stop this trend before it bankrupts our nation and our self-esteem? The solutions that I have come to, after 24 years of integrative nutrition practice, are laid out in my new CD on Mindful Eating – Making Peace with Food. It is available by going to or contacting me via my web site at

Shoshana is a medical nutritionist and wellness coach specializing in nutritional supplements. She has offices in Storrs and Hartford, and can be reached at 860-429-4624 or


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