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Diet

Almost everyone thinks their diet is healthier than it actually is

Roughly 85% inaccurately assessed their diet quality.

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By Jim Leffman via SWNS

Almost everyone thinks their diet is far healthier than it actually is, according to a new study.

In fact, of around 10,000 people researchers looked at, only 15 percent could accurately tell how healthy or not their diet was.

And strangely it was those on the worst diets who seemed to have the best idea of how unhealthy it was.

Of the 85 percent who got it wrong, almost all of them (99 percent) overrated its healthiness.

Previous studies have found that self-rated health is a strong predictor of bad health and death, but there is little research on whether self-rated diet quality is accurate.

Mixed group of good friends preparing pasta dinner in kitchen together. Recipe book on easel in front of them.
Surprisingly, accuracy was highest among those who rated their diet as poor. (Ground Picture/Shutterstock)

So a team from the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service in the Southeast Area decided to look into how good self-rated diets actually are.

The study used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a nationally representative survey of American adults conducted every two years.

Participants were asked to complete detailed 24-hour dietary recall questionnaires and rate their diet as excellent, very good, good, fair or poor.

Researchers used the food recall questionnaires to score each participant’s diet quality.

Types of foods ranked as healthier include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, lower-fat dairy products, seafood and plant proteins.

Foods considered less healthy included refined grains and foods high in sodium, added sugars or saturated fats.

latin mother and daughter cooking together mexican food at home in Mexico city
Only a very small percentage of US adults could accurately assess the healthfulness of their diet. (Light and Vision/Shutterstock)

Research epidemiologist and lead author of the study Dr. Jessica Thomson said: "We found that only a small percentage of US adults can accurately assess the healthfulness of their diet, and interestingly, it’s mostly those who perceive their diet as poor who are able to accurately assess their diet.

“Additionally, most adults overrate the quality of their diet, sometimes to a substantial degree.”

The findings were presented online at NUTRITION 2022 LIVE ONLINE, the flagship annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition

The study revealed significant disconnects between the researcher-calculated scores and how participants ranked their own diet.

Out of over 9,700 participants, about 8,000 (roughly 85%) inaccurately assessed their diet quality.

Of those, almost all (99%) overrated the healthfulness of their diet.

Surprisingly, accuracy was highest among those who rated their diet as poor, among whom the researcher’s score matched the participant’s rating 97% of the time.

Dr. Thomson added: “It’s difficult for us to say whether US adults lack an accurate understanding of the components of a healthful versus unhealthful diet or whether adults perceive the healthfulness of their diet as they wish it to be, that is higher in quality than it actually is.

"Until we have a better understanding of what individuals consider when assessing the healthfulness of their diet, it will be difficult to determine what knowledge and skills are necessary to improve self-assessment or perception of one’s diet quality.”

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