Where Our Calories Come From

      90 Comments on Where Our Calories Come From

A reader sent me a paper about a study in which researchers got people to eat less by adding pureed vegetables to foods.  (Maybe they didn’t like the puree.) That wasn’t the interesting part.  This was — a breakdown of where the average American adult’s calories come from, according to the USDA’s data.

I can almost hear the members of the Dietary Guidelines Committee tsk-tsking about the 638.6 calories of added fats and oils and the 468.8 calories of added sugars — and of course I’d agree about the sugar, which they now recommend only “in moderation.”  (How about none?  Is that too extreme?)

But look at the calories from grains — 617 calories.  In America, grains mostly means wheat.  So the average adult is getting around 1,000 calories per day from sugar and wheat.

I recently finished reading an advance copy of Dr. William Davis’ soon-to-be-released (and terrific) book Wheat Belly. I already knew wheat is bad news, but until I read his book, I didn’t realize how dramatically the wheat we consume today differs from the wheat people consumed just 100 years ago.

I’ll write a full review of the book next week.  Until then, I’ll just say that 1,000 calories per day of sugar and wheat is a prescription for lousy health and runaway health-care costs — in other words, pretty much what we’re facing today.

 


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90 thoughts on “Where Our Calories Come From

  1. Drew

    Tom, I hope you will blog the entire problem with wheat. I think I am missing something.

    Dr. Davis devoted a couple of hundred pages to what’s wrong with wheat, but I’ll certainly try hit the highlights.

  2. Lori

    Wow–that’s over 300 grams of carbohydrate by my estimate. (Sum of 469C added sugars, 150C for dairy, 91C for fruit, 617C for grains and 50C for veg is 1377C, divide by 4 g/C = 344g.) I’ve read that Americans eat around 300g of carb per day, but I’m not sure where they put it all.

    Even if someone thinks losing weight is all about the calories, why not cut out the grains and added sugar. Modern wheat is a nutrient sink: it damages the guts of celiacs and nonceliacs and the phytic acid binds to minerals. That “heart healthy” oatmeal is a nutrient sink as well–the Drs. Mellanby found that oatmeal gave kids cavities.

    My thoughts exactly. There’s no biological need for sugars or grains.

  3. Drew

    Tom, I hope you will blog the entire problem with wheat. I think I am missing something.

    Dr. Davis devoted a couple of hundred pages to what’s wrong with wheat, but I’ll certainly try hit the highlights.

  4. Per Wikholm

    Interesting statistics…but where do I find legumes as soy and peanuts?

    And I think this statistics might actually underestimate the problems. In the added fats and oil category there is a lot of grain based (corn) and soy based calories affecting omega3/6 imbalance. And the meat, eggs and even farmed fish like salmon suffer från this imbalance as well, due to the fact that they are fed corn and soy products.

    By the way, I´m just reading Michael Pollans The Omnivores Dilemma. One of his conlusions is that people in the US actually consumes more corn derived food than Mexicans as measured by the carbon 13/14 ratio unique to corn. This ratio persists through the whole food chain from corn, to corn fed chickens, to humans eating corn fed chickens (and probably even to the poor worms and maggots eating the remains of corn fed humans).

    In the excellent documentary “King Corn,” one of the filmmakers had a sample of his hair tested. The conclusion: 50% of his diet began as corn.

  5. Melinda P

    I know you’re busy, but I need some kind of push in the right direction. With all this talk about wheat being bad for you: Does that mean one should completely eliminate wheat? Or just limit it severely? Are my low carb tortillas gonna kill me (cuz yeah, they have wheat)?

    I’m having a hard time figuring out what a healthy eating plan – you know, the kind that actually produces a healthy outcome – looks like. Maybe because I’m a person that needs very specific directions at least until I get the hang of things. I’ve been trying to dig around mostly the internet, for several months. Obviously I can’t go to a nutritionist (been there, done that), they will recommend lots of carbs and grains and as little sat fat as possible, which I now accept that as bad advice. But things aren’t very clear among “low-carb” advice givers. Are beans bad for you? How few carbs are you suppose to eat? Are fruits bad for you or just some fruit? Are you supposed to eat a lot of meat/animal protein or are you suppose to eat mostly veggies and keep protein portioned? Is dairy in or out? (I don’t expect you to answer individually, but these are just a few examples of my many, many questions I’m struggling with.)

    Isn’t there a book or website or something that says how many carbs to eat and what kinds of food in what amounts, without it being some highly publicized diet related thing who has a highly vested interest in selling pricey products (Atkins and South Beach, I’m looking at you!)? It would be really helpful if it was titled “Eat this way so you don’t die” but Google would have found it for me by now if there was such a thing.

    I believe the mutant wheat we consume today is bad for us, period. So I’d avoid it completely, just like added sugar. Fruits and beans are fine in moderation (the beans should be soaked, however), but it would be a good idea to check your glucose reaction to those foods.

  6. Lori

    Wow–that’s over 300 grams of carbohydrate by my estimate. (Sum of 469C added sugars, 150C for dairy, 91C for fruit, 617C for grains and 50C for veg is 1377C, divide by 4 g/C = 344g.) I’ve read that Americans eat around 300g of carb per day, but I’m not sure where they put it all.

    Even if someone thinks losing weight is all about the calories, why not cut out the grains and added sugar. Modern wheat is a nutrient sink: it damages the guts of celiacs and nonceliacs and the phytic acid binds to minerals. That “heart healthy” oatmeal is a nutrient sink as well–the Drs. Mellanby found that oatmeal gave kids cavities.

    My thoughts exactly. There’s no biological need for sugars or grains.

  7. LeonRover

    So in which category is the humble Potato ?

    Is it a Vegetable or a Grain ?

    Then there is Corn – is it a Grain, an Added Sugar or an Added Oil ?

    Slainte Mhaith.

    Corn is a grain, potatoes are starchy vegetables (tubers). Corn oil, of course, is an added fat.

  8. Auntie M

    If I’m not mistaken, 300 grams of carbs is the recommended number for the SAD. Or maybe that’s changed with “My Plate”, not that anyone can tell. It’s so healthy, that Americans aren’t overweight or suffering health problems or anything! Yay hearthealthywholegrains!

    I look forward to the book review. Maybe I can buy a copy for my parents. And my sister. And anyone else who can’t figure out why I don’t follow the ADA crap diet. 🙂

    The USDA’s new guidelines state specifically that healthy diets are high-carb diets.

  9. Alexandra

    Robb Wolf does a great job of explaining the problems with wheat and other grains in his book, The Paleo Solution. His explanation of auto-immune is the clearest and easiest to understand that I’ve read. I am looking forward to reading Wheat Belly.

  10. Per Wikholm

    Interesting statistics…but where do I find legumes as soy and peanuts?

    And I think this statistics might actually underestimate the problems. In the added fats and oil category there is a lot of grain based (corn) and soy based calories affecting omega3/6 imbalance. And the meat, eggs and even farmed fish like salmon suffer från this imbalance as well, due to the fact that they are fed corn and soy products.

    By the way, I´m just reading Michael Pollans The Omnivores Dilemma. One of his conlusions is that people in the US actually consumes more corn derived food than Mexicans as measured by the carbon 13/14 ratio unique to corn. This ratio persists through the whole food chain from corn, to corn fed chickens, to humans eating corn fed chickens (and probably even to the poor worms and maggots eating the remains of corn fed humans).

    In the excellent documentary “King Corn,” one of the filmmakers had a sample of his hair tested. The conclusion: 50% of his diet began as corn.

  11. Melinda P

    I know you’re busy, but I need some kind of push in the right direction. With all this talk about wheat being bad for you: Does that mean one should completely eliminate wheat? Or just limit it severely? Are my low carb tortillas gonna kill me (cuz yeah, they have wheat)?

    I’m having a hard time figuring out what a healthy eating plan – you know, the kind that actually produces a healthy outcome – looks like. Maybe because I’m a person that needs very specific directions at least until I get the hang of things. I’ve been trying to dig around mostly the internet, for several months. Obviously I can’t go to a nutritionist (been there, done that), they will recommend lots of carbs and grains and as little sat fat as possible, which I now accept that as bad advice. But things aren’t very clear among “low-carb” advice givers. Are beans bad for you? How few carbs are you suppose to eat? Are fruits bad for you or just some fruit? Are you supposed to eat a lot of meat/animal protein or are you suppose to eat mostly veggies and keep protein portioned? Is dairy in or out? (I don’t expect you to answer individually, but these are just a few examples of my many, many questions I’m struggling with.)

    Isn’t there a book or website or something that says how many carbs to eat and what kinds of food in what amounts, without it being some highly publicized diet related thing who has a highly vested interest in selling pricey products (Atkins and South Beach, I’m looking at you!)? It would be really helpful if it was titled “Eat this way so you don’t die” but Google would have found it for me by now if there was such a thing.

    I believe the mutant wheat we consume today is bad for us, period. So I’d avoid it completely, just like added sugar. Fruits and beans are fine in moderation (the beans should be soaked, however), but it would be a good idea to check your glucose reaction to those foods.

  12. Dan

    tom, my low carb/health library is growing, and I find it very valuable when bloggers like yourself give us a heads up on new books along with excellent reviews. thanks so much for doing this; Wheat belly sounds great and I’ll be adding it to my next amazon list.

    Full review to follow, but it’s a great read.

  13. OldSalt72

    Would be an interesting exercise to break down the USDA data on added fats and oils to see what percentage is seed based.

    Probably a high proportion comes from processed vegetable oils.

  14. anand srivastava

    I agree with you regarding the grains and sugar. But I would like to add the refined oils to it. But there is another factor to it.

    Out of the 2656.5 calories, around 1800 are empty calories. I do regard added fats to be empty calories, even if they are healthy fats. They are nearly as empty as white rice. Trying to get good nutrition from around 900 calories is what gets them in trouble.

    Atleast 1200calories are required to get decent nutrition, if the food is properly balanced. If you do eat 4000cal and avoid any junk like wheat, PUFA oils and sugar, then it is possible to be healthy on limited meat and veggies/fruits, and get most of the calories from rice and CO/Ghee.

    If they’re natural fats, I don’t consider them empty calories. Fats are essential for many biological processes.

  15. Jo

    Interesting graph. Yes, cut out the grains and sugar. And, maybe some of those seed oils too.

  16. Kate

    Wow. That is just… stunning. Thanks for the chart. It really puts things into perspective about the SAD. Could I have your permission to post the chart on my blog, getfikatie.blogspot.com?

    Looking forward to your review of Wheat Belly; I always prefer to read a good review before I make a purchase.

    It’s a USDA chart, so you already have permission. You paid for it.

    Thank you,
    Kate

  17. John

    Also, there’s probably a lot of trans fat laden “vegetable” oils in those added fats, like canola, soybean and corn oil. If those oils are in the 300-400 calorie range, that means we’re getting half our calories from highly processed, sub-optimal food sources.

    And unfortunately, those are the oils the USDA recommends.

  18. LeonRover

    So in which category is the humble Potato ?

    Is it a Vegetable or a Grain ?

    Then there is Corn – is it a Grain, an Added Sugar or an Added Oil ?

    Slainte Mhaith.

    Corn is a grain, potatoes are starchy vegetables (tubers). Corn oil, of course, is an added fat.

  19. Chris

    Unfortunately the added fats are likely margarine (ie. Smart Balance) and Canola oil. All that sugar, all those grains, all that Frankenoil, add in the pill/ointment to cure everything (“inadequate lashes” anyone?) and is it any small wonder that our health care costs (as well as all the whitening products for our teeth)are rising.

    Good point about the added fats.

  20. Auntie M

    If I’m not mistaken, 300 grams of carbs is the recommended number for the SAD. Or maybe that’s changed with “My Plate”, not that anyone can tell. It’s so healthy, that Americans aren’t overweight or suffering health problems or anything! Yay hearthealthywholegrains!

    I look forward to the book review. Maybe I can buy a copy for my parents. And my sister. And anyone else who can’t figure out why I don’t follow the ADA crap diet. 🙂

    The USDA’s new guidelines state specifically that healthy diets are high-carb diets.

  21. Alexandra

    Robb Wolf does a great job of explaining the problems with wheat and other grains in his book, The Paleo Solution. His explanation of auto-immune is the clearest and easiest to understand that I’ve read. I am looking forward to reading Wheat Belly.

  22. bubba29

    I am curious what “added fats and oils” is?

    Fats and oils that weren’t part of the food originally. Drink milk or eat a steak, there’s fat there that wasn’t added. Put oil in a recipe, it’s added.

  23. Linda

    Love this quote from Dr. Davis’ site in response to a poster;

    “Rather than weeding out the weak by infection and predators, the weak will succumb to Kelloggs, Nabisco, and “healthy whole grains.” ”

    Well said, Dr. Davis.

  24. Larry

    I wonder how much of Clinton’s political downfall was related to his diet. He cut fat out of his diet, but then he started spending more time with a plump, juicy bird. Coincidence?

    Now that you put it that way, it kinda makes sense …

  25. Dan

    tom, my low carb/health library is growing, and I find it very valuable when bloggers like yourself give us a heads up on new books along with excellent reviews. thanks so much for doing this; Wheat belly sounds great and I’ll be adding it to my next amazon list.

    Full review to follow, but it’s a great read.

  26. OldSalt72

    Would be an interesting exercise to break down the USDA data on added fats and oils to see what percentage is seed based.

    Probably a high proportion comes from processed vegetable oils.

  27. anand srivastava

    I agree with you regarding the grains and sugar. But I would like to add the refined oils to it. But there is another factor to it.

    Out of the 2656.5 calories, around 1800 are empty calories. I do regard added fats to be empty calories, even if they are healthy fats. They are nearly as empty as white rice. Trying to get good nutrition from around 900 calories is what gets them in trouble.

    Atleast 1200calories are required to get decent nutrition, if the food is properly balanced. If you do eat 4000cal and avoid any junk like wheat, PUFA oils and sugar, then it is possible to be healthy on limited meat and veggies/fruits, and get most of the calories from rice and CO/Ghee.

    If they’re natural fats, I don’t consider them empty calories. Fats are essential for many biological processes.

  28. Angelyne

    @Melinda (and all the people who are rethinking their relationship with wheat), if you are looking for more information and a practical guide on how to start eating healthier, I have a few links for you. These links are from the show notes from a excellent podcast called Latest in Paleo. (http://www.latestinpaleo.com/) I highly recommend the podcasts. Great stuff.

    These are getting started guides for living the paleo/primal lifestyle. If you are not sure what this means, try listening to one of the podcast I mentioned above. Start maybe with one of the early ones.

    So here are the links.

    http://www.archevore.com/get-started/
    http://whole9life.com/2010/05/whole-30-v2/
    http://www.gnolls.org/1141/eat-like-a-predator-not-like-prey-paleo-in-six-easy-steps-a-motivational-guide/
    http://huntgatherlove.com/content/start-here-post

    and the biggie with enough information to keep you busy reading for a couple of weeks :
    http://www.marksdailyapple.com/primal-blueprint-101

  29. Kate

    Wow. That is just… stunning. Thanks for the chart. It really puts things into perspective about the SAD. Could I have your permission to post the chart on my blog, getfikatie.blogspot.com?

    Looking forward to your review of Wheat Belly; I always prefer to read a good review before I make a purchase.

    It’s a USDA chart, so you already have permission. You paid for it.

    Thank you,
    Kate

  30. Nancy

    I was very pleased to find that my local library already has Wheat Belly on order, so I added myself to the hold list (I’m second in line).

  31. John

    Also, there’s probably a lot of trans fat laden “vegetable” oils in those added fats, like canola, soybean and corn oil. If those oils are in the 300-400 calorie range, that means we’re getting half our calories from highly processed, sub-optimal food sources.

    And unfortunately, those are the oils the USDA recommends.

  32. Nancy

    Melinda P.
    Check out the articles under the Primal 101 tab at marksdailyapple.com
    That should give you lots of good information on a basic healthy eating plan.

  33. Chris

    Unfortunately the added fats are likely margarine (ie. Smart Balance) and Canola oil. All that sugar, all those grains, all that Frankenoil, add in the pill/ointment to cure everything (“inadequate lashes” anyone?) and is it any small wonder that our health care costs (as well as all the whitening products for our teeth)are rising.

    Good point about the added fats.

  34. Mike

    This graph isn’t too surprising considering where our country’s health is headed. I really enjoy reading Dr. Davis’s blog and, as a result, have eliminated wheat completely from our house [it’s probably been close to a year now]. When seeing your graph though, it made me think of the Carb Curve graph from Mark Sisson’s The Primal Blueprint…

    http://www.marksdailyapple.com/press/the-primal-blueprint-diagrams/

    The ~300g of carbs per day is squarely in the ‘Danger Zone’ [queue Top Gun music..]

    The sad thing with the USDA guidelines [I am nerdy enough to have read sections of it and reviewed the studies it referenced] is that most of the studies referenced used to ‘disproved’ low carb had carb intake around the 40% of total calorie intake! I don’t know about everyone else in the LCHF/Primal/Paleo community, but that is CRAZY! Sadly, since it is a loosely defined term, the USDA has taken full advantage of its ‘loose-ness’ to benefit their recommendations.

    Love your blog!! Keep up the good work!!

    That was one of the many head-bang-on-desk factors about the USDA’s report ; they’d make some statement about diet and health, then reference studies that didn’t support the statement.

  35. Peggy Cihocki

    @Anand, I do hope you are right, but I’m skeptical. My brother’s girlfriend (they live in India and she is a strict vegetarian–only animal products come from milk) has been recently diagnosed with diabetes. They are trying everything to bring her sugars down without meds and are, for now, limiting her food to vegetables, yogurt, coconut and coconut oil, and ghee (I presume). I’m not sure there is enough there to provide adequate nourishment, but if she eats rice and/or dahl, her BG spikes. We’re (my brother and I) hoping she can be convinced to eat some fish, which he eats, but so far not much success. I guess we’ll see.

  36. Princess Dieter

    I’m not at all surprised. Before ditching grains, breakfast had two slices of Ezekiel bread (or occasionally cereal), lunch might have more bread in a sandwich or wrap or pasta in a soup or mac n cheese. Dinner might be all out pasta or pizza.

    Not surprised at all.

    I still get label-shock in the grocery store when I see how much added sugar is in so much. I shop mainly the perimeters now, not within the aisles, but dang, if the processed stuff is mostly crap –but people think it’s FOOD.

    And very eager to read Wheat Belly!

    I believe you’ll enjoy it.

  37. bubba29

    I am curious what “added fats and oils” is?

    Fats and oils that weren’t part of the food originally. Drink milk or eat a steak, there’s fat there that wasn’t added. Put oil in a recipe, it’s added.

  38. Linda

    Love this quote from Dr. Davis’ site in response to a poster;

    “Rather than weeding out the weak by infection and predators, the weak will succumb to Kelloggs, Nabisco, and “healthy whole grains.” ”

    Well said, Dr. Davis.

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