Eating Better Every Day

Report finds people, especially boomers, are eating better than ever

When it comes to what's for dinner, more Americans are picking something good for them, says an Oregon State University researcher.

"Consumers are making more of an effort to eat healthier," says Carolyn Raab, OSU Extension foods and nutrition specialist in Corvallis.

10 Food Trends

Consumers are increasingly seeking foods that offer specific health benefits, according to a report recently published in Food Technology magazine by A. Elizabeth Sloan. Sloan, who holds a doctorate degree in food science and nutrition, identified 10 food trends:

v 57 percent of households are making an effort to eat healthy. Baby boomers are opting for healthy side dishes and vegetables, and healthful kids' foods have outsold regular products by 3 to 1.

v 88 percent of consumers think it's important to eat foods that are naturally good sources of nutrients versus taking supplements (67 percent) or eating fortified foods (56 percent).

v Consumers are shifting from dieting and weight-loss programs to managing weight through smaller portions, specific food restrictions and low-fat foods.

v In 2007, 32 percent of consumers made an effort to eat foods with omega-3 fatty acids, 20 percent ate foods that reduce cholesterol and 18 percent ate foods with olive oil.

v A majority of consumers are trying to live a preventive lifestyle. Vitamin C topped the list of nutrients that consumers purchased last year (68 percent), followed by calcium (49 percent) and B vitamins (46 percent).

v Forty-five percent of shoppers checked labels for sodium content, 45 percent for calories, 42 percent for sugar content.

v Organic food and beverage sales grew 13 percent in 2007, and 25 percent of consumers now cite farmers markets as their preferred location for fresh produce.

v Shoppers also are looking for food with no hormones and transfats and are seeking products in environmentally friendly packaging.

v 66 percent of consumers seek snacks with more nutrition, and 63 percent are looking for lower-calorie favorites.

v The number of adults who perceive that they or their children suffer from food allergies, intolerances and sensitivities is growing, and 37 percent say they are very concerned about gastrointestinal issues.

v 55 percent of adults report needing an energy boost several times a week and seek nutrients such as vitamin B and energy drinks to increase energy levels.

v Healthful foods are no longer found only in health-food stores; convenience stores and restaurants are offering more healthy alternatives.

Baby boomers in particular are setting a better table these days, eating more foods with omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, and mixing up oatmeal to help reduce high cholesterol levels.

Consumers, Raab says, are shifting from dieting and weight-loss programs to managing weight with smaller portions, specific food restrictions and low-fat foods.

A. Elizabeth Sloan, who compiled a report on food trends that appeared in Food Technology magazine, says people are increasingly looking for foods that are as fresh and as close to the farm as time and budget allow.

"The interest in local has been growing," she says, which is fueling an increase in local growers markets."

Local growers also are looking more attractive to consumers because of the various food scares in recent months.

"Something like that leads consumers to change their behavior," Sloan says.

Another finding — one that might not be as good — is that people are consuming more energy drinks, such as Red Bull.

Raab says she's interested to see whether rising food prices will have an impact on the trend in future studies. "As food prices increase, people may tend to eat out a little less," she says. But it's difficult to predict, she adds, because some people may buy more fast-food meals as prices increase.

The information on trends is valuable to OSU, Raab says, because it helps educators arrange programming for workshops. For example, increasing food prices may lead more people to take up home gardening. The university's Extension, then, would want to offer more food-preservation workshops.

"There might be more interest in our workshops on things like canning," she says.

Sharon Johnson, an associate professor in health and human sciences at OSU and faculty member of the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, says one popular workshop teaches adults and children about healthful snacks, such as how to make a smoothie with spinach.

Johnson admits the suggestion usually gets some grimaces from audience members, until they taste it.

"I've never had anyone not like them," she says.

One young student gave Johnson a helpful tip: Cut into a glazed doughnut and look at the knife, then cut into an apple and look at the knife. It helps you understand what you're asking your body to digest, she says.

Johnson says the Extension Center offers a repertoire of a dozen classes, ranging from stretching the dollar to gourmet creations using items already in your pantry.

In addition to scheduled classes, the Extension will conduct presentations for groups.

For more information about local workshops taught through OSU Extension or to request a catalog, call 776-7371.

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