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Americans Say Their Diet Is Healthy, but Is It?

Survey Suggests Eating Habits Don't Match the Belief of Most Americans That Their Diet Is Healthy

By Denise Mann
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Jan. 4, 2011 -- Close to 90% of Americans say they eat a healthy diet, but their penchant for sugary foods and drinks suggests otherwise.

A new Consumer Reports Health telephone poll of 1,234 adults showed that 52.6% of respondents said their diet was "somewhat healthy," 31.5% thought their diet was "very" healthy, and 5.6% said they were "extremely" healthy eaters.

But 43% of said they drank at least one sugary soda or sugar-sweetened coffee or tea drink per day, and around one-quarter said they limit the amount of sweets and fat they get each day.

These not-so-healthy eating habits may sabotage their diets and their waistlines, says Nancy Metcalf, the senior program editor for Consumer Reports Health in Yonkers, N.Y.

"Drinking your calories is a really bad idea," she says."If you have to drink or eat something sweet, drink a diet soda or eat a piece of fruit," she says.

The poll also showed that Americans rarely, if ever, count their calories, and just 13% weigh themselves daily. As a result, it's no surprise that 33% were off when they self-reported that they had a healthy weight when they actually had BMIs in the overweight or obese range, the new poll showed.

There may be a discrepancy between what people think is a healthy diet and what they actually eat, Metcalf says.

Her advice? "Write down everything you eat for a week, and look at it honestly and ask yourself, 'Is this a healthy diet?'"

Still, Americans did exhibit some healthy eating habits.

Fully 78% said they ate breakfast daily. "Eating breakfast is associated with better weight control because your hunger never gets in front of you," Metcalf says. Most people choose fruit, fruit juice, or cold cereal for breakfast, the new poll showed.

Cheerios was the favorite breakfast cereal.

Most and Least Favorite Vegetables

As far as veggies go, one-third of participants said they eat five or more savings of fruit and vegetables every day.

The most popular vegetables were:

  • lettuce or salad greens
  • tomatoes
  • carrots
  • potatoes (not sweet potatoes)
  • broccoli
  • corn
  • peppers

By contrast, the least popular vegetables were:

  • parsnips
  • Swiss chard
  • bok choy
  • turnips and rutabagas
  • artichokes
  • eggplant
  • okra

SOURCES: Nancy Metcalf, senior program editor, Consumer Reports Health, Yonkers, N.Y.Consumer Reports Health diet poll.

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