(ARA) – It was about 60 years ago that processed foods and fast-food outlets started to become mainstays of the American lifestyle. The fast-food culture that developed tended to view eating as an inconvenience, providing basic fuel for the day and not much else.
More than half a century later, many Americans are more particular about the foods they choose for themselves and their families. In fact, people are seeking out the added health benefits that can be provided by functional or “super” foods. According to the 2011 IFIC Functional Foods Survey, as many as 90 percent of Americans can match at least one food with its associated health benefit. Popular functional foods like fruits and vegetables, fish and fish oil, whole grains, tea and green tea were among the foods Americans look to the most to maintain or improve their health.
This apparent increase in the awareness of good nutrition bodes well for the future, and may partly explain the recent uptick in discussions about health-related concerns. However, while knowledge of functional foods is increasing, health care costs and astronomical obesity rates seem to demonstrate that knowledge doesn’t always reflect action.
“The good news is that nutrition education is working to raise awareness of the health benefits of nature’s ingredients, but the ongoing challenge is to translate awareness into behavior modification,” says registered dietician Ashley Koff, whose nonprofit tool, “Ashley Koff Approved,” helps people identify products that meet a high standard of nutrition and marketing integrity. “A major impediment to making change continues to be the perception that it will require an expensive and complicated total diet overhaul. I strive to communicate that dietary improvements are very simple, affordable and enjoyable. For example, add a cup of tea to your day – all you need is water and a tea bag.”
Koff’s easy-to-follow tips for improving wellness through dietary habits include:
• Minimize the added sugar – Many products that you may not expect like tomato sauce and breads have added sugars, so make sure to check the label before you make a purchase.
• Start your day off right – Eat a complete, well-balanced breakfast and try adding a cup of tea – white, green, black, oolong or herbal – for antioxidants (nature’s clean-up crew) and other health benefits.
• Focus on a balanced diet – The best bet for optimal energy is a nutrition plan comprised of four pillars: quantity, quality, frequency and balance.
• Think evolution, not revolution – It will seem less stressful to think about making exchanges rather than omissions to your diet (and stress reduction puts another check on your health report). You get the biggest health benefits by improving the quality of the items you consume most frequently, so focus on upgrading your daily staples. For instance, select items that do not use potentially harmful pesticides, choose to eat raw, whole (versus processed) vegetables, drink water with lemon or eat a piece of fruit instead and limit fruit juices.
• Incorporate color – Count the colors you consume and challenge yourself to see how many colors you can include in a single meal. Of course, it’s important to remember that the good colors are those found naturally in fruits and vegetables.
It’s safe to say that Americans will occasionally indulge in nutrient poor meals this year. But perhaps we’ll be enjoying more healthful foods, too, as many of us strive to achieve a more optimal wellness level.
Health changes do not need to be complicated. Adding a cup of tea to your day or blueberries to your oats are simple ways to boost antioxidants in your diet.