Back in 1973, my colleague, William Rathje, an archaeologist at the University of Arizona, conducted a famous study known as the Tucson Garbage Project.
He and his team of researchers asked people in neighborhoods near the university what they ate—and compared their answers to what was actually in their garbage cans.
Strikingly, the researchers discovered that actual consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables was MUCH LOWER than what was reported. And consumption of processed foods (and alcohol) was MUCH HIGHER than reported.
I thought about this “garbage in, garbage out” analysis when I read about a new study showing that the vast majority of people believe their diet is MUCH HEALTHIER than it actually is.
Of course, this may not sound like a big deal. (After all, we may all tend to exaggerate!)
That is, until you consider that much of the government and other “official” dietary recommendations are based on studies in which participants SELF-REPORT their food consumption.
Anyone else see a problem here?
In fact, two routine approaches to studying diet are to:
Ask participants what they recall eating during any given time period.
Ask how frequently they consume different foods on a regular basis.
Needless to say, this does not involve the scientific standards of measurement needed to develop evidence-based diet recommendations.
And that has been a BIG problem for decades.
No matter how sophisticated a study’s measurements for health outcomes or statistical analysis are, the results are only as good (or weak) as the actual (flawed) information on diet.
Which leads me to the results of a new study…
The imaginary, “healthy” diet
Researchers asked more than 9,700 men and women about their diets in two different ways.
First, the participants rated the quality of their diets as either excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor. The participants also completed a 24-hour dietary recall food questionnaire.
Then, the researchers compared the two sets of answers for each participant.
Results showed that about 85 percent of people were inaccurate in rating the quality of their diets. That included a whopping 99 percent who said their diet was healthier than it actually was!
In fact, only the participants who rated their diets as poor tended to be accurate.
So, why such a disparity?
The researchers said the problem could simply be that people don’t understand what constitutes a healthy diet.
Another theory is that people may understand what a healthy diet is, but don’t know how to successfully implement it.
They think they need to make big changes—then get overwhelmed and settle for wishful thinking about their food.
But following a healthy, balanced diet doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, it really boils down to three easy steps:
Eat a Mediterranean diet, which is rich in organic fruits and vegetables, full-fat dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt, eggs), grass-fed and -finished meat (especially lamb), seafood, nuts and seeds, olive oil, and moderate consumption of alcohol.
Cut out sugar whenever you can. The biggest culprits of a poor diet are processed baked goods and sugary drinks. Simply limiting those two things can make a big difference for your overall health.
Stay away from ALL processed foods. These Frankenfoods are usually loaded with artificial ingredients, sugar, unhealthy fats, and agricultural toxins. An easy way to stay away from them is to shop the outer perimeter of the grocery store. Or to find a local farmer’s market or nearby farm stand, as I report on page 5.
Bottom line? By incorporating these simple steps into your daily life, you’ll find you don’t have to exaggerate the next time someone asks how healthy your diet really is.