Helping Shoppers Eat More Healthfully

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The number of consumers who pay greater attention to the healthfulness of the food they buy since COVID-19 began in the United States has risen from 26% in May 2020 to 35% in November 2020, according to a tracking survey by the International Food Information Council.

Expect interest in healthful foods to continue in 2021 as the virus rolls on and as major nutrition developments appear in the media. These events offer new opportunities for retailers and retail dietitians to partner on shopper-focused nutrition programs and messaging.

Dietary Guidelines Update

As of this writing, we’re awaiting release of the 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines for Americans by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The guidelines are updated every five years, based on a comprehensive report of the latest nutrition science, and are used by retail dietitians and other professionals to help Americans age 2 and older consume a healthful, nutritionally adequate diet. 

The 2020-25 guidelines likely will continue to focus on healthful eating patterns for those 2 and older. But they’re also expected to take a new “lifespan approach,” with first-ever recommendations for ages 0 to 24 months and for pregnant and lactating women, paving the way for nutrition communications, educational programs and promotions targeted to these groups.

Nutrition Facts Revamp Complete

In 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finalized a redesign of the Nutrition Facts label found on most packaged foods. The new label is already a common sight, because the FDA required manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual food sales to use it by Jan. 1, 2020. What’s new is that manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales had until Jan. 1, 2021, whereupon the rollout will be complete.

Retail dietitians are already educating shoppers about the updated components of the Nutrition Facts label, including a requirement to list the grams of added sugars and the % Daily Value per serving, based on consuming less than 10% of calories from added sugars in a 2,000-calorie diet. There could be an interesting twist, however, because the scientific report used to inform the 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines recommends limiting added sugars to just 6% of daily calories. If the new guidelines adopt the 6% recommendation, look to retail dietitians to sort out any shopper confusion about the difference between the guidelines and the label.

Nutrition News Streams On

It’s routine for retail dietitians to respond to new nutrition research findings through broadcast and social media, in blogs, and in the aisles. In 2021, dietitians will continue using their skills to help shoppers understand popular pandemic-related topics such as food and immunity.

A recent example is a widely reported study suggesting that compounds in dark chocolate, muscadine grapes and green tea may help inhibit SARS-CoV-2, the strain of coronavirus known as COVID-19 in humans. While the results are promising, consumers should know that the study was conducted through computer simulations and in test tubes, and so aren’t directly applicable to humans. Retail dietitians can put findings like these into context for shoppers and recommend enjoyable ways to appropriately include these foods in a healthful eating plan with the right amounts of nutrients known to support a healthy immune system.

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