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Americans have become grab-and-go eaters. Today nearly 42 percent of our food budget goes to foods eaten outside of our homes. As fast food consumption continues to increase, so do our waist bands. Hectic, time-pressed households are drawn to the abundance of “convenience foods” and the variety of fast food outlets to feed everyone, quickly and inexpensively. However, these foods are high in calories, sugar, fat and sodium, are consistently linked to obesity. So, what can we do?

Understanding food trends and the ingredients of “convenience food” is a great start. The shift to eating more fast foods means our diets contain higher levels of sugar and fat and fewer necessary nutrients like whole grains and fiber. Convenience foods also contain added saturated and trans fats which increase cholesterol levels and the risk for heart disease. These added fats also elevate the calorie content of foods and contribute to weight gain and, in more cases than ever, obesity.

The result is a population in which two-thirds of Americans are now either overweight (body-mass index (BMI) of 25 or higher) or obese (a 30 or higher BMI). Obesity increases the risk of many of the health conditions so prevalent today, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and some cancers- such as endometrial, breast and colon cancer.

If you look at how our food has changed over time, the average cheeseburger has 250 more calories than it did twenty years ago. Bagels have grown from 3” diameter to 6”, doubling their calories; while the average soda has increased from 12 ounces two decades ago to today’s 20 ounce serving. These larger servings are often very enticing but misleading, causing the average person to feel they must consume the entire portion.

To make better choices at snack and meal times, try asking yourself questions like, “what is the calorie content”, “does this have added sugars” or “does this food contain added fats or is it fried”? The more you know about your food, the better able you are to choose healthy and nutrient-rich foods. Making healthy food choices will also help you prevent, reverse or lower the risk of chronic diseases, so it’s very important that we all make the best food choices in all situations. Healthy foods can still be “convenient”, just pay attention to what you put in your body; after all, it’s the only body you get.