U.S. diets of today vs 1950


Dear Dietitian,

I’ve recently stumbled upon a few articles touting a return to the diets of the 1950s. They say people ate healthier back then. What is your opinion?



Dear Rick,

There are several ways to eat healthily these days, which can be confusing for people. Recently, there has been an interest in returning to a 1950s style of eating, but did people eat healthier back then?

There are several differences in American life today as compared to the 1950s. For starters, the median American household income was $5,000. Half the population made more than $5,000 a year, and half earned less. In 2019, the median household income was $63,000 (1). For every dollar spent on food in 1955, 25 cents went to restaurants; now, it is more than half (2). Much of this includes high-calorie foods like pizza, burgers and fries, which brings us to another big difference: portion sizes!

Compare portion sizes of foods from the 1950s to today (3). Soda in the 1950s was typically a 7 ounce portion and today it is over 30 ounces. A hamburger in the 1950s was around 3.9 ounces and is around 12 ounces today. A portion size of french fries in the 1950s was 2.4 ounces and today is 6.7 ounces.

Interestingly, some areas of our diets are healthier today than back then. For example, vegetables were often overcooked, decreasing their nutritional value. Today we are careful to prepare vegetables al dente to preserve nutrition. We have also been educated to choose lean proteins, even if sometimes we prefer not to. Seldom is animal fat used as a seasoning. Growing up, we kept a tin of bacon grease on the stove to season vegetables and fry meats. There is no such tin in my kitchen today.

We could definitely benefit from getting back to the basics. Enjoy a home-cooked meal for dinner with fruits and vegetables filling half the plate. Eat dinner as a family; it is one of the most important activities you will share with your children. Dine out as a treat instead of a convenience. And as always, keep it simple, and be healthy!

Dear Dietitian


1. PK. Household Income Percentile Calculator for the United States. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://dqydj.com/household-income-percentile-calculator/#What_was_the_United_States_median_household_income

2. Rogers, K. Restaurant spending set to hit high in 2019 as consumers spend more of their budget on dining out (Aug 19, 2019). Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2019/08/19/americans-putting-more-of-their-budget-toward-eating-out.html

3. Rickert, K. 5 Reasons Why We Should Eat Like It’s the 1950s Again! (Mar 15, 2015) Retrieved from https://www.franciscanhealth.org/news-and-events/news/5-reasons-why-we-should-eat-its-1950s-again


By Leanne McCrate

Leanne McCrate is an award-winning dietitian based in Missouri. Her mission is to educate the public on sound, evidence-based nutrition. Do you have a nutrition question? Email her at [email protected].

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