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USDA: We’re a burger nation

The meatless Perfect Burger from Dr. Praeger’s.

I guess you didn’t need me to tell you, but I will anyway: we are a burger nation.

I tease this fact out from the newly released Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

It’s a high-level and voluminous (835 pages) summary of thousands of research reports and articles on nutrition, updated once every five years.

“Burgers and sandwiches” provide 15 to 30 percent of protein in the diets of Americans of all ages,” the report concludes. They also supply “the most energy to the diets of Americans ages 2 years and older.”

Burgers even account for a large portion of vegetable consumption: “The top 3 food subcategories that contribute 10 percent of more to vegetable intake for all [age] groups are non-starchy and starchy vegetables; burgers and sandwiches; and rice, pasta, and other grain-based dishes. . . . More than a quarter of total vegetable intake for Americans ages 2 years and older comes from white potatoes alone.”

The report goes on to observe, “Intakes of Dark Green and Red and Orange Vegetables are particularly low among all age groups.”

The report does not paint a bright picture of the health of the world’s richest and most powerful nation: “More than 70 percent of Americans have overweight or obesity, and the prevalence of severe obesity has increased over the past 2 decades.”

Obesity rates among young people are “of particular concern” because of their effects on their current health “as well as the risks of persistent overweight or obesity into adulthood.”

As for the “dietary landscape,” the report says, “Across the lifespan, the typical diet Americans consume result [sic] in overconsumption of total energy, saturated fats, sodium, added sugars, and for some consumers, alcoholic beverages. Intakes of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are lower than current recommendations.”

Being a summary of published research, the report doesn’t say a lot about the coronavirus, but it does speak of “parallel epidemics, one non-infectious (obesity and diet-related chronic diseases) and one infectious (COVID-19).”

It also says they “appear to be synergistic. Those at risk for the most serious outcomes of COVID-19, including hospitalization and death, are people afflicted by diet-related chronic diseases (obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease).”

What constitutes a healthy diet? “Dietary patterns associated with health outcomes include higher intake of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, lean meat and poultry, seafood, nuts, and unsaturated vegetable oils and low consumption of red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened foods and drinks, and refined grains.”

This is not news, of course, and overall the report confirms rather than refutes previous USDA wisdom, including endorsement of “the 3 current USDA Food Patterns . . . the Healthy U.S.-Style Pattern, the Healthy Vegetarian Pattern, and the Healthy Mediterranean-Style Pattern,” which “provide the majority of energy from plant-based foods, such as vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds.”

Like its predecessors, the new USDA report indicates wonderful opportunities for the produce sector. It doesn’t, of course, say how to capitalize on them.

Richard Smoley, editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 11 books.