Study Shows Adults Commonly Overestimate the Quality of Their Diet

Poke bowl with salmon, avocado, quinoa and cucumber. Isolated on white background. Traditional hawaiian meal. Top view flat layDo you think you have a healthy diet? You might be surprised to learn that most adults overestimate the quality of their diet. According to a new study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, only a small percentage of adults can accurately assess their diet. In fact, it is mostly those who evaluate their diet as poor who are the most accurate.

While previous studies have found that self-rated health is a strong predictor of mortality, there isn’t much research on whether self-rated diet quality is predictive of the actual quality of diet. So, researchers wanted to determine whether a single question could be used as a screening tool for nutrition studies. If it was able to, it would replace a detailed dietary questionnaire that is commonly used in nutrition research.


For the study, data was used from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a nationally representative survey of U.S. adults conducted every two years. All participants were required to complete 24-hour detailed dietary questionnaires and rate their diet as excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor.

Researchers used the questionnaires to score each participant’s diet quality. Foods ranked as healthier included fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, lower-fat dairy products, seafood and plant proteins. Foods considered less healthy included refined grains and foods high in sodium, added sugars, or saturated fats.

Significant disconnects were found between the calculated scores and how participants ranked their own diet. Almost 99% overrated the healthfulness of their diet.

“It’s difficult for us to say whether U.S. adults lack an accurate understanding of the components of a healthful versus unhealthful diet or whether adults perceive the healthfulness of their diet as they wish it to be — that is, higher in quality than it actually is,” said lead author Jessica Thomson. “Until we have a better understanding of what individuals consider when assessing the healthfulness of their diet, it will be difficult to determine what knowledge and skills are necessary to improve self-assessment or perception of one’s diet quality.”

Food Facts


No matter the reason for the disconnect between how most U.S. adults think they are eating and how unhealthy their diet truly is, steps need to be taken to improve their diet. This study adds to mounting evidence that shows how people need to be educated on food facts and how diet can affect our general health.

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Author Bio

Sarah began her interest in nutritional healing at an early age. After going through health problems and becoming frustrated with the conventional ways doctors wanted to treat her illness (which were not working), she took it upon herself to find alternative treatments. This led her to revolutionize her own diet to help her get healthier and tackle her health problems. She began treating her illness by living a more balanced lifestyle through healthy food choices, exercise and other alternative medicine such as meditation. This total positive lifestyle change led her to earn a diploma in Nutritional Therapy from Health Sciences Academy in London, England. Today, Sarah enjoys helping others by teaching healthy lifestyle changes through her personal consultations and with her regular contributions to the Doctors Health Press. Also, passionate about following her dreams in life, Sarah moved to France and lived in Paris for over 5 years where she earned a certification in beadwork and embroidery from Lesage (an atelier owned by Chanel). She then went on to be a familiar face sitting front row and reporting from Paris Fashion Week. Sarah continues to practice some of the cultural ways of life she learned while in Europe. They enjoy their food, and take the time to relax and enjoy many of life’s little moments. These are life lessons she is glad to have brought back home with her.