What we eat: the most consumed foods in America

What are the five most consumed vegetables in America?

I needed an answer to that question a couple of weeks ago for my post about grains, fruits, vegetables and fiber. I thought that finding an answer would be trivial, but it turned out to be rather annoying.

There’s no shortage of unreliable sources purporting to provide this kind of information. But data taken from content farms and question-and-answer sites is junk. In my searching, I also came across a decent number of papers from the USDA and other reputable government agencies, but they were usually only tangentially connected to answering my question.

Eventually, I turned to food availability data from the USDA Economic Research Service. But even then, extracting the information I needed was cumbersome. The data are published in a series of Excel workbooks; that creates much more friction for the reader than publishing on the web. Worse, the data aren’t formatted in such a way as to make it easy to see which foods are the most available. For vegetables, the availability data are presented in a long horizontal alphabetized list that’s difficult to sort without cutting and pasting into a new workbook.

All this was much too much effort for me, so, fueled by a particular kind of indignant laziness, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks rearranging the food availability data into a series of web-friendly tables, sorted by availability.

Regular readers will know I like my nutritional data per-calorie rather than per-pound. Calorie content, not mass, is the primary limit on food consumption for the health-conscious citizen. So, where possible, I’ve also computed food availability information for calories-per-person in addition to the ERS’s pounds-per-person.

So have at it – read, copy, repurpose, remix, do anything you like with the data. I’m looking forward to seeing if people are as interested in this information as I am. (And, after battling against Excel for so many hours, mildly apprehensive that they won’t be.)

There are a few important caveats when using food availability data to estimate food consumption, so please do pay attention to the limits of the data.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be publishing a series of posts analyzing the patterns and trends I find most interesting. But in the mean time, dive in!

Hi! I blog about food and health for Supplement SOS. I like green vegetables, long walks on the beach and triple-blind placebo-controlled intervention studies with large sample sizes. Liked this post? Follow on Google+, Twitter or via RSS or email me!.

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