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ADA Survey Holds Mirror to our Health Habits

Somebody is watching what you eat, even when you’re not paying such close attention.

The American Dietetic Association (ADA) has just released the results of its most recent public opinion survey, “Nutrition and You: Trends 2011,” and its findings reveal surprising truths about our current attitudes toward food, nutrition, and health.

The ADA conducted its first nationwide consumer survey back in 1991. Since then, seven follow-up surveys have been completed. The results of the survey tell a story of consumers’ view of whether they’re doing all they can to achieve a healthy diet, the importance of diet & nutrition, where they’re getting their information and how reliable those source are.

Here's an overview of the ADA's findings from its most recent survey:

Are You Doing all You Can?

For starters, just under half of all survey respondents (42%), most of them women, feel they are doing all they can to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle – but that leaves more than half knowing better but not doing anything about it (38%) or not wanting to be bothered (20%).

What’s holding them back?

Habits are hard to break. Eight two percent don’t want to give up the foods they like; 75% are satisfied with the way they currently eat and 62% find it too time-consuming to keep track of what they eat.

Even more worrisome is the fact that 47% feel like they need more guidance and 40% either don’t know or understand the guidelines for diet and nutrition especially with so much conflicting information out there.

Rather than being told what not to eat, “Americans would rather hear what to eat, in the form of sound-bite advice that is easy to process and to follow,” says ADA Spokesperson and registered dietician Jeannie Gazzaniga-Moloo.

Where did you hear that?

It’s no surprise, that television is cited as the source where respondents get the bulk (67%) of information about food and nutrition, with the internet rising to tie for second place with magazines (40%).

Are you already doing it?

So, what exactly are we eating? It seems we haven’t changed much in our eating habits when it comes to fruits, vegetables, whole-grain foods, and meats. Respondents indicated that more popular choices include vegetables (49%), whole-grain foods (48%), and lean proteins such as chicken (44%) and fish (46%). As a result, people are consuming less beef (39%), pork (35%) and dairy (22%).

What are You Eating?

More than half of respondents also indicated that on the chopping block are foods containing trans-fats (51%), while consumption of allergen-free foods (83%), gluten-free foods (78%), alternative sweeteners (70%), soy-based products (67%), and low-carb foods (57%) have stayed the same for half of those surveyed.

At the same time, about half of respondents are increasing their consumption of antioxidant-rich berries (48%), low-fat foods (43%), foods containing Omega-3 fatty acids (39%), and low-sugar (34%) and low-sodium (31%) foods, but it seems many people see these foods as single-food “solutions.”

According to Ms. Gazzaniga-Moloo, we mistakenly view them as “an easy fix for better health – consumers feel better if they are doing something without really having to engage in major behavior changes or delving into emotional reasons for eating.”

And what does this all mean?

The ADA survey shows that consumers have made steady progress in the way they approach food and health, but there remains room for improvement when it comes to achieving optimal nutritional health.

Ms. Gazzaniga-Moloo reminds us, “With the average American consuming twice the daily recommended amount of sodium with all the recent attention on the health effects of sodium this past year, especially with the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans’ recommendations and other sodium-reduction initiatives, it is surprising that only 31 percent of those surveyed said they increased their consumption of low-sodium foods.”

The mirror has been held up – are we ready to make more progress before the next survey?

The Bottom Line

When you look at how many dollars are spent on advertising unhealthy vs healthy foods, it’s no wonder that most Americans are confused about what to eat.

What’s scary is that gap between those thinking that they’re doing all that they can to achieve balanced nutrition and a healthy diet (49%) versus the reality (two-thirds of the population is overweight or obese).

If you're a regular reader of our Health & Wellness news then you're probably much more aware about healthy eating choices. To keep you on track, here's a few simple guidelines to follow that maximize nutrients and fiber while keeping sodium and saturated/trans-fats low:

- Eat primarily a plant-based diet; making half your plate fruits or vegetables
- Eat a small amount of protein at every meal; fish, poultry and beans are good choices; limit the amount of red meat
- Drink plenty of water; if you drink tea or coffee limit the sweetener and dairy
- Snack on fruits and vegetables e.g., apple, baby carrots with peanut butter, celery with hummus
- Reward yourself each day with a small treat e.g., piece of dark chocolate

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