The Food Paradox: Fruits and Vegetables Continue Decline

Call it the “food paradox,” despite a ubiquitous flow of information, beginning in 1980, on the health value of consuming fruits and vegetables, Americans consumption of fruits and vegetables continue to decline. 

According to a February 2011 Psychology Today article,  Americans consumption of the recommended “Five a Day” fell from 26.3 percent consuming three or more vegetable servings a day in 2009 to 34.4 percent consuming two or more daily fruit serving.  With obesity and health related problems at an all time high, the USDA recently attempted to simplify this dilemma by relegating the 1992 Food Pyramid to a simplified,  “My Plate”  guideline.   The key to this replacement is “suggested portions.”   More emphasis is placed on vegetables and grains while the fruit and protein sections are smaller.

Even more concerning is the rising belief that one can “drink” their fruits and vegetables.  When fiber is removed from fruits and vegetables, the liver processes it much more quickly, as sugar. This belief that drinking juice is the equivalent of eating it, is fueled by juice manufacturers themselves.  Currently Tropicana’s Facebook page is enlisting users  to “pledge to squeeze more fruits and vegetables in your daily diet” of course, in the form of juice.

Pledge to squeeze more fruits and vegetables into your daily diet.

Seven out of 10 Americans don’t get enough fruit in their daily diets, and the 2010 Dietary Guidelines call for people to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables eaten daily.

For every pledge received from now until Dec. 31, 2011, Tropicana will donate one 8-oz glass of orange juice (equals two fruit servings) to the USDA School Breakfast and Summer Food Service programs, up to 350,000 fruit servings.

A recent Gallup poll released last Friday, June 10, 2011, supports the continuing decline in consumer produce consumption, citing a decrease between four days in May 2010 compared to the same timeframe, May 2011, of two percent.  The most impacted groups are Hispanics, young adults, seniors, and women.  The paradox is in Americans interpretation of  “eating healthy.” During the same timeframe, 4.5 million fewer American adults reported eating healthy “all day; yesterday.”  This was parallel to two other deleterious habits; smoking and lack of exercise.  Per the Gallup poll, the percentage of consumers who smoke increased from 20.2 percent to 20.8 percent, while the decrease  in exercise for at least 30 minutes a week fell from 53.6 percent to 52.9 percent.

At no time before has there been so much interest in top chefs and cooking shows.  Chefs rate “celebrity status” bringing scrumptious vegetable dishes and accoutrements into our home.  There is certainly no shortage of colorful easy-to-navigate recipe websites.  What is it going to take to excite American consumers to indulge in fruits and vegetables, as they do over a glass of wine?  The answer might be more psychological than food hype.

Back to the Psychology Today article, Stacey Finkelstein, University of Chicago Psychologist, ran an experiment with college students to explore how perceptions of our own control, influence how hungry we think we are.   In summary, her subjects did not associate “healthy food” with satiation.  “Free will” supersedes a high satisfaction level of eating. Another finding was that people do not associate a satisfactory eating experience with something that is “healthy.” Key words such as delicious, creamy, buttery and sweet go further in motivating consumers to eat healthy food.  Perhaps the USDA would be better off tossing the plate and indulging in alluring adjectives for fruits and vegetables.  Have you tasted a gold kiwifruit or mango lately?  It is an absolutely creamy experience!  What about spaghetti squash; sweet and crunchy.

Now back to you: How would you describe your favorite fruits and vegetables, to get people to eat healthier?

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