When it comes to nutrition, many approaches have shown themselves to work throughout the last 70 years. Trends have come and gone. Frankly, the public’s taste preferences have evolved, and the American populous food consumption has been all over the place. In this blog post, I plan to delve into some of these diet trends, by the decade, to give some context to where we are today.
This was post-war America, a decade of grilling! Meat took center stage in meals around the country.
During this time, fat was not yet considered public enemy number one, and the general population was encouraged to eat chicken, eggs, and milk, in quantity. Even ice cream and butter were promoted as healthful. During this period, the average weight for men measured roughly 27 pounds less than it would nearly 50 years later in the early 2000s. The average weight for women closely mirrored this trend at a difference of approximately 25 pounds.
We put a man on the moon, the war in Vietnam devastated thousands of young men, and the battle for civil rights raged on. We were a country divided. We were divided by politics, race, and even dietary habits. On one side, you had tremendous push back against the perceived evils of factory farming, chemically enhanced food, and large scale factory farm production. During this time, a “second wave” of food co-ops started appearing across the country. Nutritionists began encouraging people to cut back on calories, consume fewer fats, cholesterol, sugar, and salt. Government nutritionists started blaming traditional foods like beef and butter for the declining health of the populace.
This decade brought about a revolution of processed foods. McDonald’s brought the Big Mac to the public. Pop-tarts first came to market, as did Coffee-Mate, Cool Whip, Diet Pepsi, Doritos, Slushie Soft Drinks, and sugary cereals like Froot Loops and Lucky Charms. Phone-in pizza delivery was born. You can’t help but ask, could it be that perhaps, the traditional foods weren’t to blame for the declining health of the public during this decade?
People became conscious of the additives in their foods and wanted healthier alternatives. Natural, unprocessed foods were in demand during this period.
This was undoubtedly a decade of diet trends. Dr. Robert Atkins brought his low carb, high-fat philosophy to the American people. The “Master Cleanse” diet consisted of water, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper hit it big. This was also the “cookie diet” period, which required you to buy *special* cookies. There was also a diet that consisted of eating half a grapefruit daily and a diet that consisted almost entirely of pineapple! People were desperate to find a cure for their growing waistlines and were seemingly willing to try anything.
The 1970s even brought us the “starvation” diet, a simply miserable approach to weight loss based entirely on not eating. This was also, arguably, the era of diet pills. There were so many diet pills being marketed to the general population you could have seemingly filled a school bus with all the different available brands. Many of these diet pills contained hazardous ingredients (amphetamines, ephedra, fenfluramine, etc.). They led to a diet-pill-popping culture that would ultimately harm countless individuals and cause health issues for years to come.
With this newfound focus on health and fitness came low-fat dieting. The Department of Agriculture released a report that stated that reducing dietary fat was the number one thing Americans could do to improve their health. The “grapefruit diet” enjoyed a come back during this period. There was a cabbage diet where you ate nothing but boiled cabbage. Liquid diets became popular. It wasn’t uncommon during this period for well-meaning people to consume far fewer calories than they needed, and countless people were frustrated at how their bodies responded to the yo-yo like, damaging metabolism effects these diets would have on them.
This guide focused on a nutritional foundation of many daily servings of grains. Today, many nutritionists argue that this has contributed significantly to the obesity epidemic over the following two-plus decades. The preoccupation with low-fat foods continued throughout this period.
This was a time when many people started concluding what may be healthy. 2004 brought the documentary “Super Size Me,” which provided an arguably biased view of fast food. In this film, Morgan Spurlock, the filmmaker, ate nothing but McDonald’s for a month. Super Size Me was a huge hit and ultimately got thousands of people, if not millions, thinking about the quality of food they were choosing to eat daily. People started demanding higher quality food, and major grocery chains started stocking organic foods to meet public demand.
The emphasis on food quality ultimately led to the “Paleo Diet,” which started to gain popularity. The philosophy of this diet was to eat like our ancestors, as “cavemen supposedly.” Proponents of this diet claim that a diet heavy in vegetables, minimal fruit, no grains, and heavy in animal products is healthy.
I think it’s safe to say we have learned that dietary success isn’t really to be found in extremes. Long term success is rarely found in subsisting entirely on one food, popping magic diet pills, or severely restricting a single macronutrient from one’s diet.
Secondly, as our reliance on heavily processed and manufactured foods increases, so does our waistlines. People in America during the early 2000s carried far more fat mass than people 50 years earlier. I argue modern produced grains contribute to this epidemic of obesity as well. As the US government championed the massive consumption of grains in the 1990s, our weight gain continued to accelerate.
As a nation, the lightest we’ve ever been is when we ate a reasonably balanced diet composed primarily of whole foods that were minimally processed.
Habits, sustainability, sensible approaches to eating without gimmicks, and reinforcing the need to eat a mostly whole food diet.
The only gimmick is effort, the best results come from a consistent approach to proper nutrition and portion control.
After all, if the gimmicks worked as well as they were supposed to, we wouldn’t have seen a tripling of the obesity rate in the last 50 years.
Change the outcome, one person at a time.
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