The Truth About Fats, Carbohydrates and Protein in the American Diet

Posted on Thursday, July 22nd, 2010
Written by: Angela, Nutritionist

Seattle Nutritionist, Angela Pifer, writes:

For nearly three decades, obesity, heart disease and high cholesterol, have been linked to the fat content in the American diet. Regrettably, the low fat foods of the 80’s have not resulted in healthier weights. In fact, quite the opposite has occurred, the obesity rates for Americans have doubled in the last 20 years, coinciding with the arrival of the low-fat revolution. With all the conflicting messages in the media and policies handed down by the government, which type of diet is the right diet? Let’s explore the trends of the past few decades and take a look at the affects of lowing or increasing fat, carbohydrates and proteins on the American waistline and identify the right approach to eating healthy.

In 1964 Americans ate 39 percent of their calories from fat and only 13 percent were obese. Now, while most Americans get only about 33 percent of their calories from fat, two-thirds, more than 190 million Americans are overweight or obese.  New studies are showing that the type of fat consumed is more important than the total fat consumed.

Studies show that Americans today consider low fat content as the most important factor when they buy food and read food labels. The actual number of fat grams consumed per day has changed little since 1971 due to the increase in overall calories consumed daily. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES), American women increased their daily calorie consumption 22 percent between 1971 and 2000, from 1542 calories per day to 1877 calories. During the same period the calorie intake for men increased 7 percent from 2450 calories per day to 2618 calories.

Because of its prominence in fast foods and processed foods, it is now estimated that an astounding 20 percent of calories in the American diet come from a single fat source: soybean oil. In fact, refined vegetable oils, such as soy oil, are used in most of the snack foods, cookies, crackers, and sweets in the American diet as well as in fast food. These oils are sources of omega 6 fatty acids which increase inflammation. Before Americans relied so heavily on convenience foods, it is estimated that omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acid intake were roughly in balance. Today, omega 6 fatty acid intake far outweighs that of omega 3.

Omega 3 fatty acids reduce inflammation in the body. Unfortunately they are not as readily prevalent in the American diet; sources include walnuts, flax seeds, and fish.

This dietary imbalance may explain the rise of inflammatory related diseases like asthma, coronary heart disease, many forms of cancer, autoimmunity and neurodegenerative diseases, and has also been linked to depression, dyslexia and hyperactivity. Studies are now showing a strong link between the imbalance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, inflammation and obesity.

The low fat policy pushed in the 1980’s caused an increase in carbohydrate consumption. Women increased their carbohydrate consumption from 45.4 percent of daily calorie intake to 51.6 percent and men increased their calorie consumption of carbohydrate calories from 42.4 percent to 49 percent. During the same time, protein consumption for both men and women remained about the same. Total calories need to be addressed along with a focus on healthier fats.

Where should the blame be placed – is it portion sizes? The typical cheeseburger has more than 333 calories today than it did 20 years ago. Is it the overabundance and availability of convenience foods and overuse of soybean oil in our foods? How about government social policies, subsidizing corn, soy, wheat and rice, the main sources of processed foods, when compared to fruits and vegetables, which drives up the prices of healthy foods? What about personal responsibility?

Taking control of your health and weight is easier if you focus on gradual changes. The first recommendation offered here, ‘Balance out your calories across the day’ is the most important recommendations to help you reduce your overall calorie intake. You could simply choose to work on this recommendation for the next two weeks.

1. Balance out your calories across the day. Your goal is to eat ½ your calories before 1PM and the other ½ after 1PM. Work on the daily pattern: Breakfast, Snack, Lunch, Snack, Dinner. Specifically focus on eating your midmorning snack 10-10:30 and your midafternoon snack 3-3:30. (This will help you eat fewer calories in the evening, where most people tend to overeat on unhealthy options).

2. A healthy dietary model is 30-40% healthy fat: 40-50% complex carbohydrate: 20% lean protein

3. You will need to cut calories to lose weight. Move away from ‘diet foods’ offering low fat or non fat options and choose whole food options. If you see ‘high fructose corn syrup,’ ‘hydrogenated,’ or ‘soybean oil’ on the ingredients label, choose a different food.

4. Focus on healthy fats, raw nuts, seeds, nut and seed butters, avocado, and healthy oils, walnut oil, extra virgin olive oil and extra virgin coconut oil.

5. Eat a protein at each meal or snack. The presence of a lean protein source at each meal or snack will slow down the digestion of the carbohydrates you are eating. This will help keep blood sugars and hunger swings in check. I most often see protein neglected at breakfast and snack time. Add a 5 raw walnuts to your oatmeal or switch to a healthy whole grain breakfast cereal and have 12 raw almonds or 1 T almond butter (milk does not have enough protein to balance out the meal).

6. At snack time, pair up a carbohydrate with a protein serving: 75%: 25% visually. Snacks should be around 150-200 calories. (Example: an apple and string cheese OR 12 raw almonds OR 1 T nut butter). Whole fruit is best here, but you can replace this with 3-4 pieces of dried fruit (no sugar added). KIND Bars, Raw Organic Bars or Lara Bars stand alone as a snack (these have a nice balance of carbohydrate and protein).

7. Don’t replace food with coffee or other caffeinated beverages. Time and time again I see the same pattern: little to no breakfast, coffee midmorning, a late lunch and then the majority of calories come in around dinner time and into the evening. Caffeine suppresses appetite and will leave you hungrier and tired in the afternoon. If you must have your coffee, then have it along with your breakfast or snack midmorning.

8. We should all be increasing our intake of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Include food sources of omega 3 fatty acids: walnuts, flax seeds, and fish and purchase a high quality omega 3 fish oil (be sure that it contains only omega 3 and does not include omega 6 or omega 9 – we get plenty of these fats). Use walnut oil or flax oil to replace extra virgin olive oil in homemade salad dressings.

Angela Pifer, MSN, CN Seattle Nutritionist

Seattle Weight Loss Programs – Get Results! Visit

Angela works locally, as well as nationally through Skype.

Categories: Current Affairs

One Response to “The Truth About Fats, Carbohydrates and Protein in the American Diet”

  1. jenn says:

    thanks this helped so much i’m gonna watch what i eat from now on thanks again

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