How Americans eat: A graphic history

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Photograph by YinYang — Getty Images

It’s no secret that Americans’ diets have changed over the years. But these data show just how drastically we’ve altered what we put in our stomachs.

 

“Eat more chicken” may be the slogan of a certain fast-food company, but it might as well have been the motto for American eating during the past four-plus decades. Poultry boasts one of the largest increases in consumption—and it was accompanied by a comparable drop in beef. As these data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture depict, the shifts have been constant and striking. Perhaps most dramatic: the epic rise and fall of corn sweeteners, the most vilified culprit in the expansion of American waistlines. Still, between the decline in those sugars and the increase in eating of tomatoes, avocados, bananas, and pineapples, there are signs that we collectively may be on the road to healthier diets.

Meat, eggs, and fish

Poultry flies – Chicken sales first took wing in the 1970s because it was cheaper than beef—and then increasingly became viewed as the healthier option.

 

Dairy

Dairy king – Got milk?” is a highly successful advertising tagline, but these days it should probably be “Got skim?” as low-fat milk sales have far surpassed those of whole.

 

Sweetners

Sweet to sour – It’s hard to view a product whose consumption rises nearly 8,000% as embattled, but high-fructose corn syrup fits that definition. Even mainstream producers like Kraft are dropping it from their drinks.

Fruits

Squeezed out – Orange juice sales have dried up as consumers shun sugar and skip breakfast. Insect-based diseases have also harmed citrus crops, causing prices to rise. Americans now eat way more bananas than apples. Does that mean cream pie made with the yellow fruit will replace apple pie as our iconic dessert?

 

Vegetables and nuts

No starch, please – The war on carbs has claimed casualties in recent years. Potato consumption has tumbled, though processed spuds (i.e., french fries) have held up better than fresh ones.

Numbers not adjusted for food spoilage, plate waste, and other losses. Meat is boneless.
Source: USDA (foods are classified according to USDA categories)

This story is from the June 1, 2015 issue of Fortune magazine.

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