Prepared Foods October 3, 2005 e-newsletter

The average American is not getting enough vitamin E, vitamin A, vitamin C or magnesium in the daily diet but is eating plenty of carbohydrates, according to a new government report.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a study that surveyed the food consumption for 8,940 consumers nationwide from 2001 to 2002.

The study found nearly 93% of Americans have some deficiencies in vitamin E, which is commonly found in vegetable oil, nuts and seeds, and fortified cereals.

However, most consumers eat enough carbohydrates -- such as bread, pasta and rice -- and riboflavin, a water-soluble vitamin found in eggs, meat and dairy products, with less than 3% reporting an inadequacy in those nutrients, the report said.

"Americans are not making wise food choices," said Alanna Moshfegh, research leader for the USDA's food surveys research group, at the agency's Human Nutrition Research Center.

The USDA conducted the study as a cooperative effort with the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Lack of vitamin E, vitamin A, vitamin C and magnesium have been documented as problems for Americans in the past, Moshfegh said.

However, the two agencies did not have comparative data because past studies were done separately and used different standards.

In the past, reports examined how well Americans were following the dietary guidelines. "What we saw was they are eating less from the recommended basic food groups and getting more of their calories from fat and sugar," Moshfegh said.

For the new report, USDA officials interviewed participants over a two-day process and examined what nutrients they had consumed from foods and beverages, but not dietary supplements.

While vitamin E was the most under-consumed nutrient, Moshfegh said it was hard for researchers to track whether participants had eaten it, because it is mostly found in foods cooked in vegetable oil. The participants often did not know if their food had been cooked in the oil.

"We are not getting as accurate information on vitamin E as we would like," she said, adding the group did not examine how much fat participants were consuming regularly.

The survey's results could influence revisions to the dietary guidelines, which HHS will release in 2010, and programs like food stamps and the national school lunch program, Moshfegh said.

Minneapolis dietitian Susan Moores said it was no surprise the public is not getting as many nutrients as they should.

"When the dietary guidelines came out in January, they highlighted the same nutrients this report seems to be flagging," said, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

Moores advised consumers to eat more dark-colored fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, dark-green lettuces, apricots and squash, in addition to meats, dairy products and fish.

"It's great to have the earth-tone browns on the plate, like meats and grains. But the plate is much better off when it boasts a whole lot of colors," she said.

Source: The Washington Times