If you follow health in the media, you know that the very little positive is written when it comes to the average American diet. Considering that 66 percent of all Americans meet the classifications for either being overweight or obese – according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – and that the rates for Type 2 diabetes continues to soar to record highs, the media could be forgiven for focusing more on the negative aspects.

While the average diet in the U.S. could certainly make room for an overhaul, a new report issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests that things are slowly starting to improve, as many Americans have started eating more healthy foods, while eating less overall.

According to researchers, working-age Americans ate roughly 78 fewer calories per day in 2010 when compared to what they ate just five years prior. The report also found that Americans have started consuming less saturated fat – diets received a six percent reduction in the number of calories from saturated fats during the five year period – while fiber consumption rose by eight percent during the same period of time.

While the results of this report were encouraging to U.S. health officials, the USDA cautioned that a lot of work still needs to be done repairing the average American diet.

Encouraging Progress

Based on data collected from the National Health and Examination Survey – which collects details on American eating habits and other health-related topics – the report points to an unexpected cause behind the drop in calories consumed – the recession that hit families hard between 2007-2009.

Due to tighter budgets, American households dramatically reduced the amount of money they were spending at fast-food drive-thrus and restaurants by nearly 13 percent. Americans households also reduced the number of times they ate out to three times or less a week.

Researchers determined that 20 percent of the overall improvement in the number of averages calories Americans consumed was directly attributed to eating out less frequently.

With people eating at home more often, they tend to prepare meals for the family that are healthier and lower in calories than what they would dine out on at a restaurant or bring home in a fast-food bag.

Additionally, the average Americans’ attention and attitudes towards the foods they eat also seems to be improving. The report found that over 50 percent of seniors reported using the Nutritional Facts Panel found on all food items when making choices about what items to buy.

Whether driven initially by economic issues, increased awareness or an overall desire to exercise more and eat better, diets overall seem to be trending towards a healthier lifestyle.

Small Difference, Big Gains

While cutting 78 calories from the average American diet may seem trivial at first glance, health experts say the trend could make a significant difference to the country’s health if maintained.

For example, eating 100 fewer calories a day can result in 10 pounds of weight loss during one year.

Here’s the basic math. One pound of fat contains 3,500 calories. Remove 100 calories times 365 days in a year and you have 36,500 calories, or over 10 pounds of fat loss.

The results of this study build off of even more recent research that shows diet and exercise make a profound impact on an individual’s long-term health. Poor diet has been linked to a number of chronic health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, gingivitis and tooth decay, stroke, and even some forms of cancer.

Clearly the key for a healthier future for Americans starts today with what choices are about what make for dinner.

John Nickelbottom is a freelance health and science writer.

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