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Healthy Eating Made Easier

Health-conscious consumers can finally chew over the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, issued in January 2016 by the federal departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services. Updated every five years, the highly anticipated recommendations for a healthier diet call for greater consumption of more nutrient-rich fruit and vegetables, less sugar and limited saturated fat.

One new recommendation is that added sugar should make up just 10 percent of daily calories. Americans also need to lower salt intake, the government said. While some people speculated that the guidelines would recommend cutting back on red and processed meats, the final dietary guidelines do not include any specific advice to reduce these sources of protein.

In addition to offering recommendations on healthy eating, the guidelines significantly influence federal nutrition and food programs and may lead to changes in food nutrition labels.

“By focusing on small shifts in what we eat and drink, eating healthy becomes more manageable,” said Sylvia Burwell, Secretary of Health and Human Services, in a press release. “The Dietary Guidelines provide science-based recommendations on food and nutrition so people can make decisions that may help keep their weight under control and prevent chronic conditions, like Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.”

Consumers want healthier foods, more information

Along with the new year and the government’s new advice for healthier diets, supermarket deli and prepared food departments can be a source of encouragement for making healthier choices that are also convenient. Consumers have said they want more healthful foods as well as more nutrition information so they can select better dietary options from these departments.

“Store Brands Deli, Dairy & Bakery,” a 2015 Private Label Manufacturers Association study conducted by online market research specialist Surveylab, found that in the deli 33 percent of consumers want more heart healthy offerings, such as low sodium; 36 percent want more nutritional information listed on items; and 30 percent want calorie content posted.

Meanwhile, the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association’s “What’s in Store 2016” report found that consumers “value food purity to the point of paying more for products with claims appealing to their values.” The Chicago-based Culinary Visions Panel added that deli shoppers are 10 percentage points more likely to be positively influenced by “natural” and “organic” on labels, IDDBA reported.

IDDBA’s annual report also pointed to specific product claims that influenced a high percentage of deli shoppers regarding their decisions to buy items, such as all natural, 80 percent; whole grain, 78 percent; and no high fructose corn syrup, 72 percent. Consumers surveyed also were influenced by whether products were labeled hormone free, 69 percent; grass fed/pasture raised, 68 percent; sustainably caught/raised, 67 percent; free range, 67 percent; antibiotic-free, 66 percent; organic, 65 percent; and non-GMO, 65 percent.

Nutritious meals simplified

Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods, the country’s leading natural and organic supermarket, has a Health Starts Here program that helps shoppers make wise nutrition choices by following the retailer’s Four Pillars of Healthy Eating. Health Starts Here foods are essentially made using whole foods (foods as unrefined and unprocessed as possible). They are also plant strong (rich in fresh vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds) and nutrient dense, and contain healthy fats (no extracted oils and/or processed fats).

“To make healthy eating easier for its shoppers, Health Starts Here foods in our salad and hot bars as well as prepared meals in the self- and full-serve cases are clearly labeled,” according to Whole Foods’ website.

Whole Foods’ new core value, “Promoting the health of our stakeholders through healthy eating education,” is evident on its website, which covers “New Year, New Start” topics such as healthy eating on a budget; expert advice on how to make easy, healthy meals; healthy pantry makeovers; and ways to add flavor to meals without salt, sugar and oil.

Regarding its prepared food department in particular, Whole Foods stresses its commitment to health and wellness, noting that “all of the ingredients are natural or organic and as many as possible are locally grown. That means no artificial flavors, colors, sweeteners, preservatives or heart-clogging trans fats.”

Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans Food Markets also has long committed to providing its shoppers with more information regarding nutrition, health and wellness. The retailer’s “Eat Well. Live Well” theme takes the guesswork out of determining the calories, fat grams and nutrient content of its foods. For example, Wegmans lists its most popular products online in a printable format, complete with such nutrition facts as calories, calories from fat, saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, carbohydrates and sugar.

Wegmans’ Wellness Keys, easy-to-recognize “dots” on its products and recipes, also make it easy for consumers to fit the right foods into their healthful lifestyles and wellness planning. Each dot alerts shoppers to important nutritional information, such as whether a product is gluten free, lactose free, vegan, high fiber, low fat, low calorie, low sodium or heart healthy. The nutrition-focused Wellness Keys follow U.S. government regulations.

In addition, Wegmans’ “Eat Well. Live Well” mission, “To Inspire and support each other to enjoy healthier, better lives using four simple Eat Well. Live Well principles,” calls for consuming five cups of fruits and vegetables daily, increasing physical activity to a goal of 10,000 steps a day, tracking calories and watching portions, and measuring progress with tools like a bathroom scale or a tape measure to help stay motivated.

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