Consumers Trying to Eat Healthier Foods

Calories are important but they're not the only factor

It seems that consumers are doing a better job of resisting unhealthy foods.

Whether it's due to the many awareness campaigns centered on healthy living or it's people just being tired of feeling poorly due to diet, folks are eating healthier these days than in years past.

According to a report entitled "Attitudes Toward Healthy Food- US June 2012," well over half of consumers are choosing healthier food options. Results of the report showed that 31 percent of consumers are selecting healthier foods for weight loss, and 30 percent are choosing foods that will help them maintain their current size.

The research conducted by market research company Mintel also shows that 48 percent of Americans age 65 and above say they are mindful of what they eat, while 32 percent of those 18 to 24 said the same. This shows that people are more likely to become increasingly aware of their diet choices as they grow older, the study shows.

"Consumers are more aware than ever of their own nutritional deficits, and what poor eating habits can do in terms of their long-term health," said John N. Frank, who is the category manager for Consumer Packaged Goods.

"As a result, today's consumers are seeking out healthy food with greater urgency. However, skeptical or confused consumers aren't likely to pay a premium for healthier food, making it hard for manufacturers to justify investment in nutritional/ingredient upgrades," he said.

Seniors less active

The Mintel report also shows participants aged 65 and older often choose not to exercise at all, and researchers feel this increases the older populations desire to eat healthier, since their level of motivation and sometimes ability keeps them from exercising on a regular basis.

"Younger adults generally still feel invincible and have a more naturally active metabolism, making it easier to maintain their weight," said Frank.

The report also shows not only age causes a difference in eating habits and exercise but also gender, as 67 percent of men believe they can judge the health level of foods, compared to 76 percent of women who had similar beliefs.

The researchers attribute this health awareness to women being more in-the-know when it comes to fitness, as they are more inclined to read nutritional labels and be more selective with their food choices.

Results also showed that 64 percent of women read the nutritional facts on labels, compared to 56 percent of men, and both genders said their children provided the necessary motivation for healthier eating.

In total, 67 percent of females said they eat healthier to be good examples for their kids, compared to 57 percent of men who said the same.

But when it comes to eating healthier, which foods are the most fattening and cause the most weight gain?

Skip the chips

In a separate study conducted by Harvard University, and published in The New England Journal of Medicine, it was found that potato chips had the most impact on a person’s weight per serving, followed by unprocessed and processed meats, potatoes, and sugary beverages.

Researchers studied 116,686 women and 51,529 men for a 20-year period, and tallied their weight gain every four years.

It was learned that potato chips accounted for a yearly weight gain of 1.69 pounds every four years, and regular potatoes whether baked, boiled or mashed accounted for 1.28 lbs.

French fried potatoes caused a 3 lb weight gain each year, sugary beverages accounted for a 1.00 lb gain, unprocessed meats 0.95, and processed meats caused a weight adage of 0.93 lbs annually.

Additionally, refined grain food items like bread, white rice and certain cereals caused the same amount of weight gain (0.39 lbs.) as sweetened deserts (0.41 lbs).

Researchers also found that the lack of eating healthy foods caused the same amount of weight gain as indulging in fatty foods like chips or unprocessed meats.

All of the study participants gained more weight when choosing not to consume whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts or yogurt, and lack of these foods caused them to gain an average of 3.93 lbs every four years.

Calories not everything

"For diet, conventional wisdom often recommends 'everything in moderation,' with a focus only on total calories consumed," said Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and chief author of the study. “Our results demonstrate that the quality of the diet and the types of food and beverages that one consumes is strongly linked to weight gain."

The researchers also detailed just how exercise and other lifestyle habits impact weight gain.

Those who exercised gained 1.76 fewer lbs. than those who didn't increase their fitness regimen, and adults who slept only six hours also gained more weight. Those participants who received over eight hours of sleep also had a weight increase compared to those with different sleep patterns.

The participants who smoked cigarettes and quit during one of the four year intervals gained 5.17 more lbs., compared to those who never smoked during their lifetime.

After the 20-year study was completed, the volunteers gained 3.35 lbs. of their body weight, and increased their overall size by 17 lbs.

"It's not that calories don't count; indeed they do," said Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University. "But it's a lot easier to control calories by eating healthfully and avoiding junk foods and sodas than it is to delude yourself into thinking you can count them accurately," she explained.

Story provided by ConsumerAffairs.
Consumer Affairs

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