Diet Investigation: Standard American Diet

The United States is often thought to be one of the healthiest nation. We’re industrialized, spend millions a year in health research and building fabulous medical buildings, and have one of the highest standards if living. We have educated doctors, life saving procedures and surgeries, and a pharmaceutical business that has something to offer for every disease or illness one could suffer from. As a nation we have a lot to be proud of.

But we’re dying.

Standard American Diet

photo credit - donielle

I believe the current cancer statistics are 1 in 3 women and 1 in 2 men will have cancer in their lifetime. Modern diseases (heart disease, cancer, auto immune diseases, autism, mental illness…..) have been on the rise for the last century – diseases that many other countries don’t have to deal with. Our life expectancy in 2007 was 75.6 years for men and 80.8 for women, which is phenomenal right?! Well, when you look at the stats, we’re actually listed at 36th and 33rd in the world respectively¹. And how many older folk do you know that live a full life yet? Most I know are in and out of doctors offices, hospitals, and nursing homes; not really living, but just ‘living’.

The infertility rate is one that many question; some say it’s increasing, others say it may be the same and we’re just seeing more couples looking for medical help and being diagnosed. One theory often passed around is that 1 in 6 (or 1 in 8 depending on which study you look at) couples struggle with infertility. I can tell you right now that I have no idea if that finding is true, but what I do know is that many of my friends have dealt with infertility. In fact, quite a few have gone through many procedures or adoption to begin their families. In the groups I ‘travel’ with now, I’d have to say it’s more like 1 in 15 or 1 in 20 – but there is also the large fact that I now associate with many more moms being a stay at home mom myself. Comparing this to when my mother was having children; she couldn’t think of anyone that was considered infertile. In the 300+ member church I grew up in, I remember only one couple that could not have children. So for me, scientific studies aside, it seems that the rate of infertility is rising as well.

So what do we eat?

The “Standard” American diet (and those in other developed nations) often consist of high intakes of:

  • Refined flours (white bread, white rice)
  • Added sugar
  • Lots of boxed foods that contain ingredients cooked up in a lab
  • Consumption of a lot of vegetable oils as well as animal fats
  • Mostly cooked and/or pasteurized foods and drinks

A “healthy” American diet often includes many of the above items, just in low-fat form with increased amounts of artificial sugars and flavors,

Breakfast is most often a bowl of processed cereal (often very high in sugar) for the younger crowd and a cup of coffee and donut/bagel for the adults. Since this meal doesn’t fulfill the body’s requirements for nourishment, a mid morning snack out of a package is usually consumed or the appetite suppressed with a pop (soda) or more coffee.

Lunch is very often a microwaveable meal, fast food, or for the health conscious – a turkey sandwich with a side of chips or cut veggies and packaged dips.

Dinner comes around and we stick to our meat and potato style meal with a veggie – often from a can and severely lacking nutrients. Gone are the days where dinner is actually “homemade”, and instead we “cook from scratch” by opening a box and a couple of cans, leaving the seasoning to the food industry.

Dessert is a staple for most, whether it’s right after dinner, or later in the evening, and if you’re anything like me: it was either ice cream or chips.

IMG_0827 (2)

photo credit - donielle

It’s slowly degrading our bodies generation by generation – and if the way we eat causes cancer, heart disease, and high blood pressure, how can we not say that the way we eat affects our fertility?

Pros to the Standard American Diet

  1. It’s easy. Point blank, this is the easiest diet to follow. You can head to any supermarket and find this food, it’s at the corner general store (yes, we have those where I live), and you can stop at any fast food on the way home when you don’t feel like cooking. It takes very little research or thinking, it’s all been figured out for us.
  2. It’s well-known and talked about. Medical professionals, the USDA, and our schools and universities all teach the “healthy” Standard American Diet so finding answers to our nutritional questions should be easy; all we need to do is open the nearest magazine or call our physician.
  3. It’s “cheap”. Our government gives food stamps and WIC money for much of this food. It’s the dollar menu at the nearest fast food joint, and “couponers” can save a dramatic amount of money on their groceries each week because food manufacturers can sell their products at reduced prices because they are so cheap to make.

Cons to the Standard American Diet

{oh where do I begin…..}

  1. Lacks in many essential nutrients. Not only do these foods lack nutrients from being over cooked and over-processed, they take nutrients from out bodies to digest them. This diet is low in essential fatty acids like omega 3’s, low in food based vitamins and minerals (since processing damages them and they add in synthetic versions), lacking in antioxidants, and contains very little in consumption of a variety of foods.
  2. Leads to food sensitivities, allergies, cancer, heart disease……..I could seriously go on and on and on and on……..

So basically, we eat this diet because it’s easy, but it costs us our health in the long run.


photo credit - donielle

How did we get here?

There are accusations and theories all over the place and every “dietary cult” out there places the blame on our government or the food industry. I’m not here to place blame on any one of the many corporations that control our food, but wonder what change started it all.

And thinking about it (without looking at studies or stats) I wonder how much affect the Great Depression had on the way we eat. I mean…..we went from most Americans being able to afford food, to their families literally starving. Most families had to rely on the government for their meals and/or eating so little they were barely surviving.

And I can’t imagine that mothers were able to keep a good milk supply for their babies as they were lacking in so many nutrients, and they often times had to work as well to make ends meet. Many infants were on cow’s milk and dying because the quality of the milk was so poor and normal cows milk was not enough to sustain them. Why was it poor? Well…..theories abound to this as well, but we see businesses all around us now cutting costs trying to survive, so maybe those farmers did the same; buying distillery slop for feed and maybe they let workers go which increased the ‘dirty-ness’  of the farms causing the animals to get sick.

After so many years of living on “the system” I think maybe we lost our ability to know how and what to eat, and the food manufacturers took advantage of the opportunity to provide cheap foods for the masses as the government gave out farm subsidies for certain crops. A solution that should have been short-lived has now carried on for generations. Instead of making changes in the law at the most basic levels (getting farmers to keep a clean operation for example) laws were made to protect our citizens (pasteurizing foods) and then somehow the processed foods became something of a status symbol; if you could afford them, you were looked at as “well to do”. Instead of barely surviving, we began to forget how to make foods that nourish and heal our bodies, opting for processed foods. Instead of eating the way we had for centuries, we began to “study” nutrition and follow advice of certain doctors who may or may not have had sound science behind their research.

Out of all the diets we’ll look at, I think most people who adhere to and advocate for a specific “whole foods” diet, can say one thing:

The Standard American Diet does not work.

As open discussion, let’s talk about your thoughts on the pros and cons of the Standard American diet, both the “healthy” and un-healthy version. Tell me your thoughts, your biggest concerns with this diet. Tell me what I missed. {but keep all comments civil or they’ll be deleted}


Other posts in this series:

Diet Investigation: Standard American Diet

Diet Investigation: Nourishing Traditions Type Diet

Diet Investigation: Vegetarian Diet

Diet Investigation: Primal/Paleo Diet

Diet Investigation: Gluten Free



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About Donielle

Donielle is an amateur herbalist and natural momma to two littles (with another babe in heaven) after dealing with being less than fertile. She has a passion for nourishing nutrition, natural living, and spreading the word on how food truly affects our health.


  1. Bugladynora says:

    I think there may have been less of a conspiracy of big foods and just a gradual change. More money meant I can buy a cake mix rather than dirty up measuring cups. We just started taking real food serious in the last few months. Our eyes are opened and we feel tons better!

  2. Know what’s even more sad? Many developing countries’ diets are becoming more and more like the Standard American Diet, since that’s what’s looked up to. It’s an educational process there, too, to encourage people to eat more than corn and processed foods and go back to eating more varied vegetables.

    donielle Reply:

    @Wendy (The Local Cook), I’ve heard that’s happening a lot – especially with the way we send over food during disasters and such. One common concern with breastfeeding advocates is that they ship over large quantities of formula. Mothers are told their milk isn’t good enough because they aren’t eating well enough so they give up breastfeeding their child to go with the ‘perfectly balanced’ formula. Only to mix it with dirty water. Or have the supply run out in a couple/few months with no means to buy more and no breastmilk available.

    It’s really sad that while so many Americans have good intentions, that we’re teaching other countries to become just as reliant on processed foods because we think our way is “better”.

  3. I don’t eat cereal very often, but it sure is nice to have Chex Gluten free & easy to grab every once in a while. Since I can’t have saltines or the like when my stomach is upset, that’s Rice Chex is often what I’ll grab to test my tummy. REally, I’m just nit-picking your choice of picture. :-) I am glad there’s a regular priced gluten free cereal out there for the moments where I just need something in my stomach. Then most of the time, I’m cooking real food, especially during the summer when it is all I can do to keep up with my CSA.

    donielle Reply:

    @ZEBE, And I have that picture because that box was in my house, on my counter….opened. :-) We’re not perfect. And with some fatigue still lingering I often have to choose between stress and food for the family. Taking care of my stress wins sometimes – other times I get help in the kitchen.

  4. I know my biggest problems with feeding my family are that one, it does cost more to buy good food and two, it takes time to prepare it. Now, not every good food is expensive, especially in season and doesn’t always take a long time but rounding it all out takes more time and money that a SAD does. It’s stressful to keep up with and hard when I’m working full time, going to school and raising toddlers. There was a place where I just had to set a limit of what I can take on and what I can’t. I buy good milk and good beef but sometimes I buy the already cooked Costco rotisserie chicken. Or I’ll buy beans in a can b/c finding the time in all that to soak and cook beans so I can use them is that “one more thing” that can tip the scale into too much for me. I don’t really like it but those are some of my compromises. …and I still can’t ever seem to get the laundry done. LOL

  5. There really are no pros to SAD, except “availability.” If you’re hungry, it’s there. But at what cost? Feeling sick later, destroying your long-term health?

    We traveled over the weekend and had to eat semi-SAD food. The beef was antibiotic- and hormone-free, but corn-fed. There were plenty of fresh veggies served, often organic (but not always), but no dressing or dip. The bread was white (or, in a few lucky cases, almond flour). By the end of the weekend I was seriously sneaking real butter out of the fridge and just eating it, because my body was craving fat! I’ve eaten real food long enough to recognize my need for fat. I wanted to go home and soak my food in beef tallow and olive oil just to feel better. I gave both my kids a big dose of FCLO as soon as we got home. We cooked up grass-fed beef (which tastes SO MUCH BETTER) and made some taco salads.

    SAD made us fat (my husband and I were both heavier in the past), it made us sick (immediately after eating it), it made us lack energy, it made us chronically ill. We had food allergies like crazy! We’ve escaped that because we’ve changed our diet. Our kids sure don’t lack energy…NO ONE can keep up with them!

    I’m constantly frustrated now, though, that if I need a snack — there’s nowhere to stop and pick one up. Why doesn’t McDonald’s have kombucha on tap? Why doesn’t Wendy’s have pastured chicken nuggets (breaded with almond flour)? Why doesn’t Taco Bell have grass-fed beef taco salad? oh, if they did, I’d eat fast food again!

    Eating real food has also NOT been more expensive for us, overall. We spend a lot more in certain areas (like all animal products), but we spend a lot less in others (going out to eat, which we almost never do anymore). It’s evened out in the end. Real food doesn’t have to be expensive!

    In short — lol — there is just no comparison between real food and SAD.

    Michelle Reply:

    @Kate @ Modern Alternative Mama,
    I have to be honest, I don’t think it’s fair to say you haven’t had reproductive issues only because you are eating a real food diet. Often a woman can do EVERYTHING right and still have problems. I’m not saying that because I’ve experienced it personally, I have been eating a somewhat SAD all of my life, and I’m only starting to alter that, but I don’t think even a perfect whole food diet could have protected me against the infection that caused my son to be stillborn. I’m not trying to be mean, but it seems like that’s what you’re suggesting and I disagree. Also, please be aware that your statement “I’m serious, even my “real food” friends have had a miscarriage or two.” comes off as somewhat insensitive to those of us who have experienced loss, which I suspect is a large portion of the population on this site.

    donielle Reply:

    @Michelle, Michelle, I wanted to take a moment to reply to your comment as I feel very much the same way you do regarding Kate’s comment. It often times stings when someone refers to infertility or loss in such a way. For that I’m sorry that you had to read it and her comment will be edited accordingly.

    I actually know Kate {virtually} and she wouldn’t mean to cause hurt to another person, but because she is someone who has never experienced what many of the readers here have, may have been a bit insensitive.

    I’m so very sorry for the loss of your son, what a terrible tragedy. And while I have not had to walk the road of loss and grief, I believe you are very right in saying that sometimes no matter how you eat, it doesn’t fully protect our little ones. One of my very good friends lost her baby at 39 weeks due to a knot in the umbilical cord – there is no amount of changing her diet that would have prevented such an occurrence! As for myself, I eat a very whole foods diet and I still have issues regarding my PCOS, it’s something that I’ll have to pay attention to my entire life.

    Thank you for taking the time to comment.

  6. Where to begin?? I do believe this is a problem perpetuated by the government, as it subsidizes corn, wheat and soy and we end up getting those products in every single packaged food on the market (and in meat). This makes me not trust the information the government produces. I even question the USDA’s latest: My Plate. Everything is divided up neatly into quarters, with a big glass of milk on the side. I just don’t know what to believe, so I have to eat what makes me feel good and what I know is clean and whole. Regarding fertility, I can only guess what the standard american diet has done to my body over the years. I’ve been trying to conceive unsuccessfully for a while. I’ve been eating much healthier for a couple years, but wish I’d started a lot sooner.

  7. I think that the other thing that went wrong in the past is the fat phobia that occurred after the link between cholesterol and heart disease was discovered. Saturated fats were replaced by transfats which turned out to be even worse, and sugar and refined grains replaced the fats in the food for flavor, which are far less satisfying. It’s amazing to look at the ingredients of the foods at the grocery store and see how many have sugar (or some type of sugar) listed very near the top.

    I also personally find the biggest hurdle to eating whole foods all the time is always being able to find and afford the good stuff. Grocery stores don’t have grassfed beef just sitting there, you have to do some extra leg work to find it. It’s worth it, but it is definitely a struggle to balance time and budget and eating whole foods.

  8. amen! i get so frustrated at the misinformation thrown around as fact in america.

    i work as a shadow aide in a public school and one day the students were learning about the food pyramid (which i despise!). when they were talking about fats and oils, the teacher said “we need to avoid these because they don’t have a lot of vitamins”… my jaw almost hit the floor (hello… vitamin e in olive oil and vitamins a and d in pastured butter, just to name a few great sources of vitamins in fats/oils).

    also, your comment about WIC… WIC is full of nutritional misinformation. my husband and i are foster parents and foster children are supposed to be on WIC, so i have become pretty familiar with it. a few of the things that frustrate me about WIC:

    1) after age 2, children are only given low-fat milk to drink.
    2) the WIC checks give children juice daily to drink, and WIC considers it a serving of fruit (!)
    3) the WIC checks give you enough boxed cereal to feet them multiple servings every day. as if if the processed grains aren’t bad enough for the kids, some of the approved cereals are also rather sugary.

    foods stamps are slightly different, though. you can buy almost any kind of food with food stamps, including organic meat and produce (although, i am sure that most people use food stamps for SAD food). so, theoretically you could eat healthfully with food stamps (emphasis on theoretically).

    Martha Reply:

    I know though that at least here, WIC has changed an awful lot in the last couple years. They are not recommending juice as a fruit and they are giving real fruits and vegetables instead of juice.
    I think it is a great program for the people who really have no clue about health. I know my sister commented on Capri Sun not being healthy on her FB, and so many of her friends asked “Why is that not healthy?” In this case, you take what you can get.

    Also, no food is not healthier than some food. I had no money and was trying to eat healthy, and refused to eat what I had as canned vegetables are not as healthy as fresh etc. No food is not healthier than some least optimal food.

    WIC at least does some education, where many doctors forgo the education of health or promote outdated ideas.

  9. Melissa says:

    It really bothers me that I hear a lot of people (from my own generation and my parents’) say things like, “everyone gets cancer”, or “everything causes cancer, so you might as well enjoy what you can”. I don’t understand it, but it’s like they don’t have any diseases now and they aren’t really concerned about their future. I also think the problem is with marketing. People think whole wheat is healthy, so they see that on the front of the bread and buy it without looking at the ingredients. People load up on boxed food that might sound healthy, while they are really just falling for the marketing tricks that these companies are pulling.

    Melissa Z Reply:


    I think a lot of people use that phrase because there is a lot of conflicting information available. One news article says fat’s the devil, the next says carbohydrates are the devil. Gov’t nutrition standards vs traditional standards. It gets a bit overwhelming to try to eat “healthy” because there are so many “healthy” ways to eat (just check out how many diet books are available- and how many purport to be based on scientific evidence).

    I admit to throwing my hands up a few times in frustration at all of this. Especially since I have very little in the way of a scientific background. I’m an accountant. I don’t have a clue how to read a scientific study & determine whether or not it’s based on sound science or biased or flawed.

    Even the “traditional” diet gives me concerns. In the past, people’s lifespans were much shorter (60 was OLD). Were diseases/problems not showing up because people didn’t live long enough to have those problems? Medicine has changed a lot also. Did people not have cancer because cancer was so much less prevalent or because no one knew how to diagnose it?

    I’m not saying that I think the SAD is good, I just question how many problems are due ONLY to the SAD & how many are due to everything else that’s changed.

  10. Our government isn’t doing anything to help this horrible situation. If we end tax breaks to giant corporations, factory farms and conventionally grown, pesticide-laden food and give it to farmers, we could eat healthy without paying an arm and a leg. Potato chips should not be cheaper than an organic apple. It’s just INSANE! People also believe almost anything if it’s in the form of a television or internet ad. McDonalds may tell you their chicken nuggets are 100% white meat and they are good for your kids, but we all know (or should) that nuggets are NOT healthy!
    I wish people would realize that convenience and lack of knowledge are killing them. I have switched to an almost all organic, unprocessed vegetarian diet. Not that I expect everyone to be veg, my husband isn’t. Just knowing what you’re putting in your body really helps you make healthy choices. I don’t buy anything if it has a long list of ingredients, or ingredients I can’t pronounce. And if it has artificial ANYTHING, I put it back. Baby steps, right? So my husband and I are now healthier than we’ve ever been. All this money going to organic, REAL food is the same money that I’m saving on healthcare. Neither of us has had to see a doctor for any kind of sickness in over a year. We haven’t even had one cold. It’s incredible. We feel better, we look better (both lost 30 lbs), and we don’t get sick ever. Eating healthy now pays off in the long run.

  11. Kathleen says:

    First, a little self responsibility, if you are reading or posting about this you have the resources to find out healthy food to eat. Personally I do not want the government involved in my food choices. I have access to raw milk which is the only milk I can drink and in some states it is illegal. government at its worst. Second, “Americans” eat this way, I am tired of being lumped into some 350 million person group that does all wrong. When you try to feed millions of people you make some sacrifices, but we informed people have choices. I have a small back yard and my husband grows in 5 gallon buckets all kinds of veggies. I shop at the farmers market for meat, veggies and fruits that we can not grow. I haven’t purchased out of state or country meat, veggies or fruits for years. My hobby is food, I love to cook so I am interested in the industry. I don’t feed my family a lot of processed foods and sneak healthy stuff in on them and they love it. God fed us from the beginning and He will continue to feed us. I follow His natural diet, pasture raised meat, naturally grown veggies and fruits. Great discussion, thanks for letting me vent :o)

  12. I don’t have any fancy scientific research under my belt or anything, but all I know is that once my husband and I worked it out so that I could be a homemaker for our family, we have been so much healthier. I told my husband that since I wouldn’t be bringing in a paycheck anymore that I would either spend a considerable amount of time being a super-couponer and we’d continue to eat the cheap quick-fix packaged meals that were on sale OR I would spend our grocery money wisely on whole foods and make our meals from scratch (for real). We opted for the whole foods approach and are thrilled with how much healthier and happier everyone is. Of course, it doesn’t take a SAHM to do this, but that’s how it worked for us.

    My husband has regularly struggled to stay within the weight standards of the Coast Guard, eating healthier has helped significantly. I worked for over a year to get pregnant with my first baby, eating healthier cut that time down to a single month with our second baby. I suffered from intense migraines for over ten years since I was a young teenager. Haven’t had one in almost two years now. My husband’s 89-year old great-uncle who lives with us was overweight and on blood pressure medication. By just changing his diet over the course of a year his doctor took him off the medication. We didn’t ask him to, he just told us that he didn’t need it anymore.

    Those are our experiences, can’t speak for anyone else. Of course we’re not perfect, we eat cereal (but choose the less sugary/processed kind for the most part), we order a pizza now and then, and eat at restaurants, but those are rare extravagances instead of “the norm”. I feel so much better about our diets now.

    donielle Reply:

    @Jen Medlock, What a wonderful testimony to what “real” foods can do in a diet! We aren’t perfect in our house either, but try to remain at about 90% whole foods – it’s where we feel the best yet still have flexibility when needed. :-)

    Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  13. I think it is great to eat healthy, but not to get too wrapped up in obsessing and worrying about it. Worry and stress can kill you too!
    I love eating whole foods and homemade foods. We do not enjoy most of the foods on the SAD, because they don’t taste good.

  14. While it is true that most of the choices through the WIC program are SAD type foods, it is possible to eat a real food diet while getting assistance from WIC and food stamps. My family is a testimony to this. My husband is in school and we had an unexpected (but very much wanted and loved!) baby nine months after we got married, thus making it necessary (in our opinion) for me to quit my job and stay home. Prior to quitting my job, we ate a real food diet and I can tell you that NOTHING has changed since using WIC and food stamps to pay for our food. We are blessed with a local health food store that accepts food stamps. I am able to purchase pastured chicken and pork here, as well as farm fresh eggs. I am able to get local and organic produce during the winter at our local Hy-Vee, and in the spring/summer/early fall, we have a wonderful local Farmer’s Market that accepts food stamps. When we were not on food stamps, I bought eggs and meat straight from the source for less than I spend on it now, but the point is that I am still able to feed my family a real food diet while on government assistance. So, please don’t led your readers to believe that all families on WIC and food stamps eat a SAD diet because that is simply not true. Everyone is able to make informed choices for their family regardless of where the money for their food comes from.


  1. […] Don’t even bother reading this post if you don’t want to be convicted:  The Standard American Diet […]

  2. […] in just one year. No wonder the Standard American Diet is SAD! As a society, our mental health, fertility and waistlines are suffering the consequences of following a diet high in sugar and hydrogenated […]