We talk a lot about healthy swaps and foods to avoid: but what about the foods that Americans just aren’t eating? American food habits are of enormous interest to the rest of the world. As the so-called “Western Diet” permeates regions overseas, many abroad are asking why we eat the way we do: why so much sugar, why so much salt?
While the obvious answer may be “It’s delicious!” the answer is actually a little more complicated than that.
The real answer is that American palates have, over time, become so accustomed to foods high in fat, sugar, and salt, that anything else seems unpalatable.
Many of us are not used to “real” flavor. Instead, what we’re accustomed to is neon-like flavors that can be produced only by copious amounts of unhealthy ingredients.
Accordingly, the United States is one of the heaviest countries in the world, burdened with preventable, chronic disease. Overhauling diet in the face of that can be totally overwhelming.
Rather than unrealistically waiting on the typical American food patterns to be upended (not going to happen), it can be helpful to focus on what the rest of the world is doing right.
What are people in other, healthier cultures eating, and how have their palates been formed to accept natural flavors, textures, smells, and foods in a way that is both delicious and satisfying?
While many of these foods may seem completely and totally obvious, they are foods that many Americans continue to eschew according to dietary surveys and sales data. If you’re making an effort to eat a little healthier, make sure they end up on your table on a weekly, if not daily, basis.
It probably comes as no surprise that vegetables top this list. However, stay with us for a moment: did you know that less than 14% of American adults consume enough vegetables on a daily basis? Furthermore, the vegetables we are eating are mainly in the form of potatoes and tomato sauce? Yes, truly.
Vegetables provide more than just vitamins and minerals: they also provide fiber, water, and a high volume of food for a lower number of calories than other foods. When consumed correctly, vegetables can help enhance weight management, control blood sugar, prevent disease, and promote gastrointestinal regularity.
A whopping 80% of Americans don’t consume enough fish, and that’s a shame! Lower in calories and saturated fat than many traditional meat choices, many fish are also high in Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Unfortunately, most of the fish we are eating is fried or otherwise covered in butter or fatty sauces. In choosing seafood, always remember that preparation style can make or break a meal!
Tea is rich in flavonoids: phytochemicals that have been shown to have a preventive effect for certain cancers. Flavonoids have also been shown to have a cardioprotective effect, reducing the risk for heart attack and stroke.
While chai tea, sweet tea, and other sweetened tea beverages are relatively popular, their high sugar content negates the healthfulness of the tea itself.
If you’re not caffeine sensitive, make unsweetened green or black tea a regular addition to your day in lieu of soda, energy drinks, soft drinks, sports drinks, or fruit juice.
4. Unsweetened Greek Yogurt
Greek Yogurt is still booming, but the unsweetened stuff? Not so much. The idea that yogurt should be sweet is largely an American concept.
While adding honey, agave, or other so-called “natural” sweetener to your yogurt seems like a healthy addition, the sugars matter just the same with regards to blood sugar control and weight management.
Plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt is rich in probiotics, high in protein, and pretty delicious once you get used to the sour taste.
Not quite there yet? Try topping your yogurt with a mellow, sweet fruit (bananas or apples are a good option) to help cut the tartness.
While not necessarily a food in and of themselves, prebiotics are essential to gut health.
Not to be confused with probiotics (Which many Americans are doing better on thanks to the popularity of yogurt), prebiotics are resistant fibers necessary for probiotics to work properly.
Currently, most American adults and children consume less than 50% of the recommended intake for fiber, and that’s hurting our probiotic consumption.
Prebiotics are always found in fiber-rich foods (see above for vegetable consumption), including asparagus, onions, garlic, apples, and beans. While it’s tempting to just take a supplement, research hasn’t shown that supplements work as well as prebiotics consumed in whole food form.