Survey: Americans Crave Easier Ways To Eat Healthfully

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
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The U.S. is at a crossroads when it comes to nutrition advice. For decades, Americans have heard a lot about what not to eat, and much less about nutrient-rich foods to enjoy when building a healthy diet. Various stamps, stars and seals on food packaging labels also tend to focus on what foods don't contain -- like fat, sugar and salt -- rather than the valuable nutrients consumers should look for.

Now, a new survey sponsored by the Nutrient Rich Foods Coalition (NRFC) finds that Americans are more confused than ever about healthy eating. And a recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office adds to many other voices calling for a unified food labeling system to help convey clear, consistent advice to consumers about the nutritional quality of foods.(1)

According to the survey, 54 percent of Americans are overwhelmed by the information and advice they receive on what to eat and what to avoid, and 61 percent are interested in learning about the beneficial nutrients found in foods and beverages, not just the amount of fat, sugar and salt a food contains.

"It's clear that Americans are confused about healthy eating and are looking for a simple, sound approach to build a healthy diet and live well," notes Adam Drewnowski, Ph.D., director of the nutritional sciences program at the University of Washington Center for Obesity Research. "We need to help people embrace and enjoy food -- not fear it, or be confused by it. We can do that by focusing more on nutrient-rich foods."

The NRFC encourages people to restore balance to their diets in this way, and supports the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005, which encourages choosing more nutrient-dense foods. Nutrient-dense foods are defined as those that "provide substantial amounts of vitamins and minerals and relatively few calories."(2)

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Eating the nutrient-rich way means considering the total nutrient package of a food or beverage: Looking at how many beneficial nutrients it contains, such as vitamins, protein and fiber, as well as the amount of fat, sugar and salt. Nutrient-rich foods include foods from all five food groups: milk, fruits, vegetables, grains, and meat and beans.

The survey found that 78 percent of Americans agree they would like a simple, practical tool that would help them build a healthy diet based on getting the most nutrients from the foods they choose. Drewnowski agrees: "Following this approach to eating allows people to choose foods they enjoy that provide key nutrients important to overall health."

"The nutrient-rich foods approach can be applied to individual food choices, meals and the overall day to develop a lifetime of healthy eating. It's not a specific diet plan, but a general shift in the way people can think about food," notes NRFC spokesperson Mary Abbott Hess, LHD, MS, RD, LD, FADA.

Hess shares the following tips for easily applying the nutrient-rich foods approach to everyday meals:

-- Savor the first few bites of any dish. Top foods with chopped nuts or reduced-fat shredded sharp cheese to get crunch, flavor and nutrients in every bite.

-- Spend a few minutes to cut and bag veggies to increase nutrients in the diet of every family member. Try some ready-to-eat favorites like red, green or yellow peppers, broccoli or cauliflower flowerets, carrots, celery sticks, cucumber, snap peas or whole radishes. Keep cut vegetables handy to use as mid-afternoon snacks, side dishes, lunch box additions or as a quick nibble while waiting for dinner.

-- Serve meals that pack multiple nutrient-rich foods into one dish, like hearty, broth-based soups that's full of colorful vegetables, beans, lean meat, or chill with a dollop of low-fat yogurt on top. Serve these with whole grain breads or rolls.

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