Healthy Diet? Are You Sure?

Nutritional deficiencies contributing to chronic disease despite most US, UK, German adults claiming healthy diets

A healthy diet equals a healthy you, right? Unfortunately, that may only be the case if your diet is actually healthy.

A new survey commissioned by the Global Nutrition & Health Alliance (GNHA) found that the majority of adults in the US, the UK and Germany reported eating a healthy diet. But the prevalence of chronic, diet-related diseases in these countries suggests that many people may be overestimating how healthy their diets actually are.

"Preaching about proper diet is not enough," said GNHA founding member Nigel Denby, RD, head of dietetics at Grub4Life in the UK, in a press release. "Perceptions of a healthy diet and the fact that it is very difficult to consume the recommended intake of nutrients such as Omega-3 and Vitamin D via diet alone, require us to rethink that approach. Additional studies are needed to demonstrate the truth behind what people report they are consuming and what they really are eating."

This survey was conducted by marketing and research firm Instantly in 2014. It included around 1,000 adults from each country.

Of these adults, 72 percent said they ate a "healthy" or "optimal" diet, and 52 percent said they consumed all their key nutrients via food alone.

However, according to Dr. Denby and colleagues, essential nutrients such as omega-3 and vitamin D are often missing from foods. Supplements may be necessary for optimum health.

In all three countries, fewer than half of the participants were getting enough vitamin D from dietary sources. Only 32 percent also reported regularly taking an omega-3 or vitamin D supplement.

Women were more likely to say supplements were necessary, while men tended to say proper nutrition could be achieved through diet alone. Baby boomers and young adults also tended to say that diet alone was sufficient, while middle-aged participants thought supplements could improve nutrition.

"Regardless of country, most consumers know optimal nutrition is important," said GNHA founding member Suzanne Steinbaum, DO, a cardiologist and the director of the Women and Heart Disease Center at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, in the release. "A nutrient rich diet is the foundation for a healthy life."

This study was published online Sept. 8 in the journal Nutrition Today.

GNHA is supported by a grant from Reckitt Benckiser, which produces and distributes health, hygiene and home products.