On the surface it looks as though our society has developed healthier eating habits over the past five decades. Red meat has taken a back seat to lean proteins such as fish and poultry; we are eating more fruits and vegetables than our parents did; and cartons of nonfat milk have been crowding out the whole milk on grocery store shelves.
Nonetheless, weight problems and obesity are plaguing populations worldwide. In the United States, the government has estimated that less than 1/3 of the total population is currently at a “healthy weight.” A dramatic decline when compared to generations past.
According to the USDA, many factors can account for weight gain, but the core issue is an increase in calorie consumption, plain and simple. Though some positive trends have emerged over the years, our intake of fat, sugar, and overall calories has continued to increase dramatically.
The real question is, what calorie rich foods are we consuming more of? It doesn’t sound as though meat is the problem, and it would be difficult to link a few extra stalks of broccoli to weight gain. Alcohol and butter are two troublemakers on the rise. As low carb dieters would confirm, we are in fact eating more refined grains. Yet, all of these are mere slugs compared to the growing popularity of the #1 fat offender…cheese.
In the 1950’s, the average U.S. consumer ate just 7.7 pounds of cheese per year. In 2005, the average American packed away 31.3 pounds of cheese, a 300% increase in consumption. Thirty-one pounds may not sound too threatening, but it equates to over 52,500 calories and 4000 grams of fat. Once past the lips, this can turn into an extra 15 pounds on the hips.
So are consumers sitting around eating big wedges of cheese? Maybe some, but in this day and age approximately two-thirds of cheese consumption is in the form of commercially manufactured and prepared foods, such as frozen pizzas, sauces, instant pasta meals, bagel spreads, breads, and packaged snack foods. At times, we may not even be aware that cheese is in our food.
As an odd twist of fate, this could actually be more good news for those who are willing to reconsider their cheesy ways. Following a cheese-free diet promotes the consumption of more natural and minimally processed foods. This means less chemicals, saturated fats, and hydrogenated oils; three known health evils within our diets.
Thanks to the emergence of an enormous natural foods market, recent legislation to create more transparent ingredient labeling, and the increasing availability of information via the net this one step diet has become much simpler.
Some may question the simplicity. Just prepare that turkey sandwich without cheese? Order the fajitas rather than the enchiladas? Complex fad diets tout food combining, meal rating systems, portion size measuring, and of course calorie and fat counting. The more rules, systems, and food-relating tricks in a diet, the more effective we are led to believe it is. Yet, just purchasing more natural foods and cutting the cheese, may offer an instant 15-pound boost to those New Year’s weight loss resolutions.