The US diet has changed dramatically in the last 200 years. Many of these changes stem from a single factor: the industrialization and commercialization of the American food system. We've outsourced most of our food preparation, placing it into the hands of professionals whose interests aren't always well aligned with ours.
It's hard to appreciate just how much things have changed, because none of us were alive 200 years ago. To help illustrate some of these changes, I've been collecting statistics on US diet trends. Since sugar is the most refined food we eat in quantity, and it's a good marker of processed food consumption, naturally I wanted to get my hands on sugar intake statistics-- but solid numbers going back to the early 19th century are hard to come by! Of all the diet-related books I've read, I've never seen a graph of year-by-year sugar intake going back more than 100 years.
A gentleman by the name of Jeremy Landen and I eventually tracked down some outstanding statistics from old US Department of Commerce reports and the USDA: continuous yearly sweetener sales from 1822 to 2005, which have appeared in two of my talks but I have never seen graphed anywhere else*. These numbers represent added sweeteners such as cane sugar, high-fructose corn syrup and maple syrup, but not naturally occurring sugars in fruit and vegetables. Behold:
It's a remarkably straight line, increasing steadily from 6.3 pounds per person per year in 1822 to a maximum of 107.7 lb/person/year in 1999. Wrap your brain around this: in 1822, we ate the amount of added sugar in one 12 ounce can of soda every five days, while today we eat that much sugar every seven hours. The increase is so steady I was able to fit a line to it rather well (R2 = 0.95):
And using math, I can peer into the future**. If current trends continue, by 2606 the US diet will be 100 percent sugar!
* The Department of Commerce and USDA report production, not consumption. To arrive at a reasonable estimate of consumption, I adjusted the whole data set for post-production losses using the USDA's current loss estimate of 28.8%. If we assume that less sugar went to waste in the 1800s because it was a more expensive commodity, this estimate may slightly underestimate sugar intake during that time period.
** Assuming current average US energy intake of 2,250 kcal/day, as determined by US Centers for Disease Control NHANES surveys.