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Study Reveals Diet Trends—And Disparities—Among Americans By Race And Ethnicity

Posted on January 31, 2023 by Henry Ford Health Staff

From 2011 to 2018, the quality of American diets became less healthy, according to a recent Henry Ford Health study. The study examined data from almost 20,000 adults to determine diet quality among African American, Caucasian, Hispanic and Asian American populations. 

“We found that, on a whole, Asian Americans had better diet quality than any other racial/ethnic group across the study period,” says Menghua Tao, Ph.D., a research scientist at Henry Ford Health. “The African American population had the worst overall diet quality within the same study period.”      

Overall, the study found that Americans are eating less fruits, whole grains and dairy, and more saturated fats, but Dr. Tao said eating trends differed by race/ethnicity. She also noticed a few promising improvements in American diets among each racial/ethnic group. 

Here, Dr. Tao shares five findings.  

  1. Sodium intake decreased, particularly among Asian Americans. “Traditionally, Asian Americans have eaten more sodium than other racial or ethnic groups,” says Dr. Tao. “Our study showed this has decreased in recent years. People are understanding how high-sodium diets can be harmful to their health.”   
  2. Sugar intake decreased, particularly among African Americans and Hispanic Americans. “This is great to see,” says Dr. Tao. “Both the Hispanic and African American communities have historically had high rates of obesity. With reduced sugar intake, we may see obesity decline in the future.”       
  3. Caucasians are eating more soy. “The white population is staring to eat more plant-based diets, whether for ethical or environmental reasons, and you can see this with their increased consumption of soy products,” says Dr. Tao. “People are becoming aware of the protective benefits of soy and they’re becoming more experimental with different meals and ways of cooking.”  
  4. Americans are eating less whole grains—especially Caucasians. “We always promote increasing whole grain consumption and the health benefits of whole grains, but especially in the Caucasian population, whole grain intake has decreased significantly,” says Dr. Tao. “We’re not sure why.” Easy ways to eat more whole grains? Have oatmeal for breakfast and switch your white bread toast to whole wheat.  
  5. Americans are eating more polyunsaturated fats. Salmon, nuts, olive oil—the benefits of polyunsaturated fats are widely touted. (They’re great for heart health, brain function and the list continues.) And while eating saturated fats is also on the rise, it’s nice to see that healthy fats are getting consumed, too. 

What Accounts For Disparities In Diet Quality?

For certain minority groups, language barriers could affect healthy eating behaviors. “If we want to increase awareness about healthy eating, campaigns need to be specifically designed with someone's own language and diet behaviors in mind," says Dr. Tao. "Minority health education programs are important.”  

Another reason for disparities in diet quality? Socioeconomics. Healthy eating can be expensive and requires time to prep meals that some people don’t have. Plus, having a car allows access to a variety of grocery stores and restaurants—and if you don’t have a car, your choices may be limited. 

A few healthy eating hacks that won’t break the bank: Instead of fresh produce, buy frozen and canned. (Try to avoid canned options that are stored in sugary syrup.) For sources of protein, mix it up with beans and lentils—they last a long time and are generally on the less expensive side. 

Looking for more nutrition advice and want to make an appointment with a registered dietitian? Call 1-855-434-5483 or visit Nutrition Services on henryford.com.

Menghua Tao, Ph.D., is a research scientist at Henry Ford Health. 

Categories : EatWell

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