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Exploring American Eating Habits

Time11:17 Date15-05-2020 Hits59 Views

If there’s one thing that has been consistent about diets over the last forty years, it’s that there is always something new to try. Thankfully, as of late, there has been a bit more consistency in promoting balanced nutrition and a healthy, active lifestyle.

This year, with our nutrition company celebrating 40 years of changing people’s lives with great nutrition products, I found myself entertained by reliving the evolution of diet trends and food preferences over the last four decades.

What was happened in the 1980s

The eighties were a time of low-fat, high carb diets and trends. It was all about reducing fat from any source – even the healthy fats – and eating a lot of carbohydrates (including plenty of sugar) which are considered by many to be a huge diet “no-no” today.

The diet fads were fascinating:

The Cabbage Soup Diet basically consisted of water and cabbage. Is it any surprise people lost weight? They of course also missed out on plenty of vitamins, minerals, and protein.

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The Beverly Hills Diet focused on food combining – guiding people to avoid eating carbs and protein at the same time. This also led to weight loss, but not because of any magical effect of food combining. Since proteins and carbs couldn’t be eaten at the same time, meals were just naturally a lot smaller.
Diet centers became popular, many of which promoted and sold frozen meals. But the true key to their success was the support and coaching they offered – an approach that still has legs today!

Nutrient-rich meal replacements also took hold, primarily through formal, medically supervised weight-loss programs.

The 1990s: All That and a Bag of Non-fat Chips
Low-fat, high-carb diets were still all the rage in the 90s, so plenty of “fat-free” items ­– like cookies and snack foods – started hitting the market, leading many to believe they could eat all the fat-free treats they wanted without gaining weight. But these “fat-free” foods were not “calorie-free,” and people soon realized that consuming large amounts of fat-free foods led to weight gain, so diets began moving to a more balanced approach.

The popular diets of the 90s included:

The Zone Diet recommended that each meal should consist of 40 percent of calories from carbs, 30 percent from protein, and 30 percent from fat, marking a decided shift from the very low-fat diets of the 1980s.
The Blood Type diet made different nutrient recommendations based on an individual’s blood type. While this trend has been debunked, it sparked the interest, or maybe even demonstrated foresight, into a trend towards “personalized nutrition,” which is currently a hot topic.
The Subway Diet was a different take on the meal replacement idea, using a meal of a sandwich, baked chips, and diet soda to replace two meals a day.
Subway Sandwich Diet
Interest in the Mediterranean Diet also started to surge, as studies began to support the health benefits of this eating pattern, which places emphasis on whole-plant foods, healthy fats from nuts and olive oil, and minimal intake of refined carbohydrates, including sugar.

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In the nineties, we also saw a healthy push towards more fiber, and vegetarianism started to become more mainstream as soy and grain-based veggie burgers started to hit the mainstream market. The USDA Food Pyramid was also introduced in 1992, and the FDA passed the DSHEA Legislation in 1994 which defined and regulated how supplements were labeled and manufactured, leading to a vitamin and supplement boom.

These Were “Poppin” in the 2000s
The new century also brought a big shift in eating, with a shift towards higher protein and lower carbs. Over time food manufacturers began to come out with more low-carb options to meet this growing trend. But, as with the low-fat craze of the 1980s, many consumers overate these low-carb (but not low-calorie!) foods and had trouble reaching their weight-loss goals.

Three admitted millennium favorites:

The Atkins Diet started to take hold – again. Essentially a very low-carb diet, Atkins was originally popularized in the 1960s, and revised over and over.


Atkins Diet mudaruMaster Cleanse ­– a celebrity favorite – consisted of lemon juice, cayenne pepper, a bit of honey and water, and was the Cabbage Soup Diet of the new millennium.
The Special K diet became the new version of The Subway Diet, touting cereal and milk as a twice-daily meal replacement and, therefore, a way to manage portion and calorie control.

The raw foods movement also kicked off but stayed niche, since it appealed mostly to vegans. Over-the-counter fat-blockers became available and trans fats were demonized as information came out about how dangerous they were to heart health. “Supersize Me,” the documentary that showed the dangers of supersized fast-food meals, led McDonald’s to end its supersizing practice soon after the film debuted. The food of the decade was bacon; green tea started its heyday; smoothie stores popped up on every corner, and “organic” and “local” food items started entering the mainstream.

The 2010s Were So “Extra”
Now looking back at the last decade of food trends and habits, we find Keto and Paleo diets taking prominence over the last ten years, along with a newer eating trend known as intermittent fasting.

These four diets were quite popular in the 2010s:

The Baby Food Diet was driven around the portion-control theme, with adults eating jars of baby food instead of regular meals. This was not something most people could sustain. It also obviously made restaurant dining impossible.
Gluten-Free Diets became popular as a weight-loss strategy since they naturally eliminated wheat-containing foods from the diet in the form of bread, pasta, and cereals. But once food manufacturers figured out how to remove the gluten (and keep the calories!), weight loss efforts were, again, stifled.
The Paleo Diet was designed to mimic the diet of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, which many believe is more aligned with our genetic makeup. This eating pattern includes lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, while eliminating dairy, grains, and beans.
Intermittent Fasting has several variations, but the most popular form is one in which all your food for the day is consumed within an 8-hour window while you fast for the remaining 16 hours. While this may be a natural way to cut back on calories – since for most people it means eliminating at least one meal – it can impact nutrient intake if careful choices aren’t made.
During the past decade, food trucks popped up everywhere, and meatless meat became mainstream, with the newest meat alternatives providing a flavor profile similar to the actual meat and meant to satisfy veggie burger naysayers. Milk replacements – from soy, pea, nuts, or oats – appeared everywhere, worrying the dairy farming industry.

Good fats ruled while butter coffee took off as part of the ever-popular Keto diet.

Plant-based Diets and Sustainable Ingredients
Now more than ever, people are realizing the importance of a balanced diet. In fact, the Mediterranean Diet, which first came into prominence in the early 1990s, was named Best Diet Overall for 2020 by US News and World Report. Factoring in the impact on the climate and environment, plant-based and sustainable ingredients (hello, meatless meat trend!) will continue to grow in popularity as people consider how their food choices impact themselves and the earth.

Susan Bowerman
M.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Sr. Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training

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