The surprising number of calories the average American eats every day

If you've looked at the nutritional panel on the back of any packaged food product, you've likely noticed that in addition to calories and grams of fat, carbohydrates, and protein, there's a line that says, "2,000 calories a day is used for general nutritional advice" (via Food and Drug Administration). If this sentence has led you to believe that the average American is eating 2,000 calories a day, you're off by a long shot. In fact, study from 2017 found that the average American eats 3,600 calories a day (via Business Insider). That's a 24 percent increase over the average consumption in 1961, when the average was just 2,880 calories. If this number surprises you, you're not the only one; most of us believe our diets are "healthy"... and, we also tend to underestimate our total calorie consumption (via Cheatsheet).

So why are we eating so much more than our parents and grandparents ate? Nutrition experts blame the explosion in portion size in the past few decades. "Everyone in the food industry decided they had to make portions larger to stay competitive, and people got used to large sizes very quickly," Marion Nestle, Ph.D., MPH, Professor of Nutrition and Food Studies at New York University, told HealthDay. "Today, normal sizes seem skimpy." 

Eating more has meant that people are weighing a lot more these days; currently, 71 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, compared to 54 percent from 1988 to 1994.

The foods Americans have been splurging on the most

So what foods are people eating, to cause such a spike in calorie consumption, and, ultimately, how much people weigh? According to the Business Insider report, we've added about 100 additional calories per day from meat to our plates since 1961, an additional 100 calories from sugar and other sweeteners, and our average daily consumption of grains — think cereal, rice, bread — has leaped from 627 calories a day to 801. The biggest increase of all, though, was in vegetable oil, which is used to fry all of the french fries, potato chips, and donuts we've been noshing on — 689 calories each day come from this unhealthy fat, compared to 276 in 1961.

In case you didn't notice, there's one food group that we're not eating more of than we did the year when John F. Kennedy was sworn in as President: fruits and vegetables. In fact, only one in 10 Americans eats adequate amounts of these fiber-rich, low-calorie foods, according to the CDC. "[V]ery few Americans eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables every day, putting them at risk for chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease," Seung Hee Lee Kwan, Ph.D., of CDC's Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, said in a statement. "As a result, we're missing out on the essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber that fruits and vegetables provide."

To find out how many calories a day you should be eating, visit the USDA's MyPlate calculator.