Most Americans take in significantly more protein than recommended.
The eating habits of Americans need to shift if the country is to avoid a health epidemic. According to the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the fact that 65 percent of adult females and 75 percent of adult males are overweight or obese is a clear indicator that most Americans are eating too many calories. In addition, those extra calories are coming primarily from fats and sugars in processed foods.
Calorie Intakes on the Rise
Estimates for the average American's daily calorie intake vary widely from about 2,500 to 3,600. The USDA doesn't provide statistics on total calorie intakes in the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans, but in the 2010 edition it stated that the average intake for women was 1,785 and for men, 2,640. These numbers aren't excessive, but they may not be accurate. According to the USDA, survey respondents often under-report calorie intake, and well-controlled studies show that actual intakes may be considerably higher.
While the increased calorie intake is concerning, it's the composition of calories that is most alarming. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, more than half of Americans' daily calories come from ultra-processed fast foods such as burgers, pizza, fries, chips, candy, soda and baked goods. These foods are loaded with saturated fat and added sugars that contribute a large number of calories to the diet but little nutrition. In comparison, according to the AICR statistics, less than one-third of daily calories come from fresh and minimally processed foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Average Calorie Needs
Most people need far fewer calories than they actually eat. Calorie needs are based on age, weight, gender and activity level. Males typically need more calories than females, younger people need more than older people and active people need more calories than sedentary people. For example, a 35-year-old active male needs 3,000 calories daily, but his sedentary male counterpart needs only 2,400 calories a day. A 35-year-old active female needs 2,200 calories per day, but a sedentary female of the same age needs only 1,800 calories per day.
Calorie Density vs. Nutrient Density
It's easy to go over your calorie needs for the day when you're eating a lot of processed foods high in fat and sugar. A typical fast-food meal could contribute more than half of the calories you need in a day; if you eat two more meals and snacks - and consume high-calorie beverages - you will have a large calorie surplus by day's end.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourages adults to reduce their intake of processed foods, added sugars and saturated fats, and to increase intake of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. To do this, replace high-calorie snacks with nutrient-dense snacks; trade solid fats such as butter for vegetable oils; choose foods with no added sugars, eat whole-grain rice, bread and pasta instead of refined white varieties; and drink water or unsweetened beverages instead of sugary drinks.