By Eric Vilas-Boas
Don't get us wrong: The evidence that America as a whole is moving into some bold new direction of healthy eating is tenuous at best. The fact that Burger King and McDonald's tiffs are national news is still a sign we have a long way to go. But there is some wisdom, a few shining lights of gastronomic intelligence that our nation as a whole can't hurt to reference. Heck, we just learned that eating salt is kind-of OK, after all. You don't have to deny yourself life's purest pleasures. As nutrition consultant and author Karen Ansel puts it: "It's really what you're doing the majority of the time." So keep these notes in mind when sitting down for your next meal:
1. We want our products local, "fresh," and "healthy," according to Food Technology magazine. Eighty percent of consumers specifically look for the word "fresh" in stores and 58 percent do so in restaurants. Seventy-eight percent of people are also making a strong effort to get more vitamins out of their food and 57 percent are trying to eat more products with special nutritional ingredients, which means these concepts are on our minds much more than they were even a few years ago.
2. We're eating less meat per-capita. For the first time on record, meat consumption was down - by six percent between 2006 and 2010. There's not as much fun in going full-on veg, but eating mostly vegetarian can have massive benefits, including weight loss, improved overall health, and a longer life-span. Some studies have shown that a whopping 90 million Americans are following the diet. In any case, Ansel says, "Most Americans don't need to worry about how much protein we're getting, it's just that we're eating it the wrong way." A recent study from the University of Missouri showed that having a protein-rich breakfast can be fantastic for you - it takes only about three days for the body to adjust and lead to increased fullness and decreased cravings throughout the day.
3. Getting your groceries delivered is actually greener than driving to the supermarket, because of the same physics that make bus travel more energy-efficient: one long route with stops versus many short ones to the supermarket. According to a study by the University of Washington's Anne Goodchild, home delivery trucks "produce 20 to 75 percent less carbon dioxide than having the same households drive to the store."
4. Gum-chewing is recreational again, not a poor substitute for your morning coffee. Wrigley, "out of respect" for the FDA's investigation into caffeinated foods, chose to pull its caffeinated gum Alert from the market last week. One piece of Alert has 40 mg of caffeine in it (for context, a short cup of Starbucks Brewed Coffee has 180mg). And now that caffeine is out of the sticky, bubble-blowable, cinnamon-flavored snack you loved when you were little, your kids stand that much less of a chance of consuming it; every little bit helps since it's everywhere already. No amount of caffeine is safe for children, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. "Their bodies just don't break it down the same way adults do," Ansel says. It's a different story for adults, as long as you get it from coffee or tea, which you're less likely to chug, and not a sugar-loaded energy drink. Another problem, Ansel says, is that products like energy drinks and Wrigley's gum were marketed to ages 25-49, but "Teenagers love adult things."
5. We're cutting down on synthetic sugar substitutes, MarketWatch reports. Artificial sweeteners Splenda, Sweet'N Low, and Equal sales are down 40, 15, and 23 percent since 2009, respectively. Meanwhile, white sugar and more natural substitutes like Truvía - made from the South American plant sugar leaf, and 300 times sweeter than the white stuff - are on the rise. We still don't know everything there is to know about the artificial stuff, Ansel says, and they don't just come in color-coded packets. "These make their way into lots of things," Ansel says, like sodas, diet sodas, sweetened drinks, energy drinks, and different tea drinks. "They may be linked with heart disease, but we just don't know." Even you stick to just sugar, you at least know what you're getting.
6. The cicadas are coming! And this week's U.N. study told us we can and we all definitely should, start eating insects. "Beetles for Breakfast" the headlines trilled. While most Americans aren't culturally there yet, there are plenty of recipe options buzzing around and likely plenty of cheap opportunities to do so soon with the coming swarm. And anyway, we really should be eating bugs: "Some varieties have as much protein as chicken, fish, and meat," Ansel says, and only 20 percent of cricket is inedible, compared to 35 percent for chicken and 45 percent for beef.
7. If all that isn't enough, even Tony Stark is eating healthy. And who can forget that shawarma-filled post-credits shot in The Avengers? Earth's mightiest heroes are fighting for truth, justice, the American way, and now, rather than eat a sandwich made up of 36-percent fat, the one that's made the most money alone is munching on tuna and apple slices.
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