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American Diets Have Yet to Catch Up With Increased Awareness of Healthy Eating

Aug. 4, 2011 -- More Americans say they are aware of the health benefits of functional foods, but there has been no increase over the past five years in the number of people who are eating them on a regular basis, according to a new survey from the International Food Information Council (IFIC).

Functional foods are foods that may provide health benefits beyond basic nutrition. Examples include fish such as salmon, which are rich in heart-protective omega-3 fatty acids, and whole grains, which help maintain digestive health while potentially lowering the risk of colorectal cancer. Berries, dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, and other colorful fruits and vegetables also are considered functional foods.

Health Concerns and Functional Foods

One thousand randomly selected adults completed the IFIC’s online survey during March and April. The survey was designed to measure Americans’ knowledge about the health benefits of functional foods, whether or not such foods are part of their diet, and what barriers prevent them from eating them on a regular basis.

Ninety-five percent of the respondents believe that they have control over their own health. Nearly half said that heart disease was their most important health concern, followed by weight and cancer. And three-quarters of those who took the survey said that food plays the most important role in both maintaining and improving one’s overall health.

“Nine out of 10 people can name at least one food and its associated health benefits,” Elizabeth Rahavi, RD, associate director of health and wellness at the IFIC, told reporters. That’s up from just under eight out of 10 in 1998. “That’s a really exciting trend.”

For example, 85% of the people surveyed recognized that omega-3 fatty acids offer cardiovascular benefits. But of those who are aware of those benefits, less than half report that they get omega-3s.

There were similar findings for food components associated with overall health and well-being. While most of the respondents knew the value of protein and B vitamins, the survey reveals, only about half of those people make them a regular fixture at mealtimes.

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