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The 2011 IFIC Functional Foods/Foods for Health Survey from the International Food Information Council (IFIC) has found that Americans often look to food to provide health benefits. Ninety percent of survey respondents can name at least one food and its associated nutritional benefit, while 76 percent said that functional foods, or foods that can promote health, can have a meaningful effect on their health when consumed.
The foods and food components those polled look to the most to help improve or maintain their health are fruits and vegetables, fish/fish oil, dairy, whole grains, and herbs and spices.
“Americans have made it clear that they want to take advantage of the health benefits of food,” noted Elizabeth Rahavi, associate director of health and wellness at Washington-based IFIC, whose mission is to effectively communicate science-based information on food safety and nutrition to health and nutrition professionals, educators, journalists, government officials and others providing information to consumers. “But it’s not just fruits and vegetables that can have a positive impact on our health. There are lots of healthful components like antioxidants, fiber, whole grains, and soy, found in a variety of foods and beverages, that can make a difference in our health as we age.”
Among the top components with benefits cited in the survey are calcium (92 percent) and vitamin D (90 percent) for bone health, protein (87 percent) and B vitamins (86 percent) for overall well being, omega-3 fatty acids (85 percent) for heart health, and probiotics (81 percent) and fiber (79 percent) for digestive health.
Despite their knowledge of what they should be eating, Americans still struggle to incorporate these key food components into their diets. Top barriers to more frequent consumption are expense, taste and availability.
“Consuming foods for health benefits doesn’t have to be expensive,” countered Rahavi. “Just taking simple steps, such as choosing a whole grain cereal, oatmeal, or yogurt for breakfast each day, can go a long way to improve health over time.”
In the survey Americans noted cardiovascular disease (46 percent), weight (32 percent) and cancer (22 percent) as top health concerns, and almost one in five (19 percent) said healthy aging was a top health concern.
The survey, which has been conducted seven times since 1998, randomly sampled 1,000 U.S. adults. Other issues covered in the survey included attitudes toward health, awareness of 34 diet-and-health relationships, and top sources of nutrition and health information.