Your Diet is Probably Worse Than You Realize

News Brief: Most Americans overestimate the healthfulness of their food

Robert Roy Britt
2 min readJun 15, 2022

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Photo: Pexels/Ketut Subiyanto

The typical American doesn’t exactly consume an ideal mix of food. That’s no secret. But a new study suggests that most U.S. adults are somewhat to very clueless about just how unhealthy their diet is.

“Most adults overrate the quality of their diet, sometimes to a substantial degree,” said study leader Jessica Thomson, PhD, a research epidemiologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

To be fair, it can be really hard to know what to eat amid all the conflicting, confusing and changing advice these days. But the study yielded a stark statistic. Among 9,700 people who self-reported what they eat and rated themselves on their diet’s quality, about 85% overrated its healthfulness.

Here’s what the researchers considered relatively healthy versus unhealthy foods, based on current nutrition science:

Examples of foods ranked as healthier include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, lower-fat dairy products, seafood and plant proteins. Foods considered less healthy included refined grains and foods high in sodium, added sugars or saturated fats.

A handful of folks recognize where they stand. “Interestingly, it’s mostly those who perceive their diet as poor who are able to accurately assess their diet,” Thomson said in a statement.

So do people not understand what a healthy way of eating involves? Or are they just kidding themselves about how they eat?

“It’s difficult for us to say whether U.S. adults lack an accurate understanding of the components of a healthful versus unhealthful diet or whether adults perceive the healthfulness of their diet as they wish it to be — that is, higher in quality than it actually is,” Thomson said.

The findings, which have not been published in a peer-reviewed journal, are being presented this week at a meeting of the American Society for Nutrition.

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Robert Roy Britt

Editor of Aha! and Wise & Well on Medium + the Writer's Guide at writersguide.substack.com. Author of Make Sleep Your Superpower: amazon.com/dp/B0BJBYFQCB