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Most Americans overestimate how healthy their food choices are

Of the more than 9,700 people who participated in a recent study, approximately 85% made a mistake when asked to rate the quality of their diet, and nearly all overestimated its usefulness. Photo by Free-Photos/Pixabay

Many people think they are making healthy food choices, but they may look at their diet through rose-colored glasses.

That’s the main finding of a new study that aims to uncover the discrepancy between how healthy Americans think they are and how they actually eat.

“Adults in the United States find it difficult to accurately assess the quality of their diet, and most adults believe that the quality of their diet is healthier than it actually is,” said study author Jessica Thomson. She is a research epidemiologist at the USDA in Stoneville, Mississippi.

As part of the study, researchers asked participants to rate their diet as excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor. People also filled out 24-hour food questionnaires. The researchers then compared the responses to see how similar the responses were to the two exercises.

In short: they didn’t.

Of more than 9,700 people, approximately 85% made a mistake when asked to rate the quality of their foodand almost everyone overestimated his health.

“They thought their diet was very good, when in fact their diet was bad,” Thomson said.

The study found that those who rated their diet as poor were much more accurate. Their ranking matched that of the researchers more than 9 times out of 10.

In the remaining four rating categories, between 1% and 18% of participants accurately assessed the quality of their diet.

More research is needed to figure out how to bridge this gap.

“First, we need to understand what factors people consider when they think about the health of their diet,” Thomson said.

Her team wanted to see if a simple question could be used as a screening tool for nutrition research. Previous research has shown that self-esteem can be a strong predictor of health and risk of early death.

Conclusions that are consistent with previous studies, were unveiled Tuesday at an online meeting of the American Nutrition Society. Research presented at medical conferences should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

The gap this study found is between knowledge and action, said Shelly Maniscalco, a nutritionist in Washington, DC, who reviewed the results.

“People pretty much know that they need to eat more fruits and vegetables, that whole grains are good for them, and that they should eat less fat and fried foods,” she said.

Key Maniscalco said it helps people eat nutritious food that tastes good by teaching them how to cook and providing them with easy-to-follow recipes.

Also, people should remember: change doesn’t happen overnight.

“People get overwhelmed when they try to make big changes all at once,” she said. “It’s good to start by not saying, ‘I’m on a diet’ or ‘I’m going on a diet.’

Why? This is because it implies that the diet is temporary.

“You’re ready to walk away from him at any moment,” Maniscalco said. “Change your mindset and instead say, ‘I’m taking these small steps to improve my diet in a way that benefits my health.’

Additional Information

USDA has more information on healthy eating.

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