The New Definition Of Healthy

Amy Myrdal Miller - Produce on the Menu

Amy Myrdal Miller - Produce on the MenuIn the 1990s‭, ‬in the mind of the consumer‭, ‬“healthy”‭ ‬meant low fat‭. ‬In the early 2000s‭, ‬during the Atkins Diet craze‭, ‬it meant low carb‭. ‬While the Food and Drug Administration‭ (‬FDA‭) ‬never issued regulations for low-carb claims‭, ‬both low fat and low carb were claims that could be quantified or measured‭. ‬Today‭, ‬consumers are defining healthy in ways that can be very broadly interpreted and loosely associated with beneficial nutrition‭ ‬and health outcomes‭.

Claims like clean‭, ‬natural‭, ‬real and sustainable lead consumers to believe they are making a better choice‭. ‬But therein lies the‭ ‬issue‭. ‬Are foods and menus that carry these terms better for our health‭? ‬For the planet‭? ‬For a company’s bottom line‭? ‬

According to data from Mintel‭, ‬59‭ ‬percent of consumers believe‭ ‬“fewer ingredients”‭ ‬means a healthier product‭, ‬and 37‭ ‬percent of these consumers are willing to pay more for these products compared to their conventional counterparts‭. ‬This is wonderful news for fresh and fresh-cut produce items‭.‬

In addition to fewer ingredients‭, ‬consumers are also looking for more‭ ‬“natural”‭ ‬products‭. ‬The Mintel study showed 84‭ ‬percent of shoppers seek out‭ ‬“natural”‭ ‬products thinking they are less processed and therefore healthier‭. ‬But are White Cheddar Simply Natural Cheetos really better for you compared to regular Cheetos‭? ‬Ah‭, ‬the magic of marketing‮…‬‭.‬

What about the shoppers and chefs who fervently believe organic products are healthier than conventional‭? ‬While there may be differences in soil health‭, ‬depending on production practices and location‭, ‬research has never shown a significant difference in the nutrient content of organic and conventional produce‭. ‬What research does show is that people who eat the most produce‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬in all‭ ‬forms‭, ‬including frozen‭, ‬canned‭, ‬juice‭, ‬dried and fresh‭, ‬produced by any production method‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬have the lowest risk of heart disease‭, ‬the biggest killer in this country‭.‬

If you push a shopper to answer the question‭, ‬“Why do you believe organic is better for you‭?‬”‭ ‬he/she will likely answer‭, ‬“Oh‭, ‬because there are no pesticides‭.‬”‭ ‬The average shopper has no clue that farmers who use organic production methods also use pesticides‭, ‬a fact few organic marketers will ever admit‭.

According to data from Mintel, 59 percent of consumers believe “fewer ingredients” means a healthier product, and 37 percent of these consumers are willing to pay more for these products…

How we talk about pesticides and produce is critically important‭. ‬Research published last fall in‭ Nutrition Today‭ ‬shows low-income shoppers are less likely to purchase any fresh produce if they have seen a specific fruit or vegetable on a list like the Environmental Working Group’s‭ ‬“Dirty Dozen‭.‬”‭ ‬While low-income shoppers have a favorable opinion of organic produce‭, ‬they are less likely to pay more for organic produce‭. ‬Furthermore‭, ‬they will forgo buying any fruits or vegetables due to the negative influence of messages about conventional produce‭ ‬and pesticides‭. ‬We need to stop making shoppers agonize over the type of produce to buy and simply encourage them to buy and eat‭ ‬more of all types of produce in all forms in ways that are convenient and enjoyable‭.‬

Another marketing term that keeps rearing its ugly head is‭ ‬“real”‭ ‬food‭. ‬Consumers equate‭ ‬“real”‭ ‬with artisan‭, ‬authentic‭, ‬natural‭, ‬minimally processed‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬more terms that are loosely defined and regulated‭. ‬Who should own‭ ‬“real”‭ ‬food claims‭? ‬Fresh and fresh-cut produce grower/shipper/marketers‭, ‬that’s who‭.‬

In fact‭, ‬if the produce industry wants to influence the next consumer definition of healthy‭, ‬more of us need to remind shoppers‭ ‬and diners that fruits and vegetables are real‭, ‬clean‭, ‬natural‭, ‬minimally processed‭, ‬sustainable foods‭. ‬Stop comparing production methods‭. ‬Stop comparing the nutrients in one fruit to another‭, ‬and start celebrating the fact that we need to promote greater‭ ‬purchase and consumption of all produce in all forms‭.‬

Finally‭, ‬we have to remember that health doesn’t sell as well as flavor and enjoyment‭. ‬Don’t talk about why people should eat produce‭. ‬Let’s talk about why people want to eat produce‭: ‬Sweet‭, ‬juicy peaches‭. ‬Creamy‭, ‬comforting baked potatoes‭. ‬Aromatic strawberries‭. ‬Crisp‭, ‬cool lettuce‭. ‬Sweet‭, ‬tender corn-on-the cob‭. ‬Tangy‭, ‬sweet orange juice‭. ‬Tempting tempura green beans‭.‬

This is real food‭. ‬But it’s also really good food‭.‬

On that note‭, ‬I’m going to go enjoy a clean‭, ‬raw‭, ‬natural‭, ‬real‭, ‬sustainable‭, ‬vegan‭, ‬gluten-free‭, ‬minimally processed snack with no artificial flavors‭, ‬colors or preservatives‭. ‬It’s called an apple‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬a big‭, ‬juicy‭, ‬beautiful‭, ‬crisp‭, ‬sweet‭, ‬refreshing‭, ‬satisfying apple‭.‬

Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RDN, FAND is a farmer’s daughter from North
Dakota, award-winning dietitian, culinary nutrition expert, and founder and president of Farmer’s Daughter Consulting, Inc. Learn more about her business at Follow her insights on food and flavor issues on Twitter @AmyMyrdalMiller.