There aren’t many silver linings to the otherwise ominous financial clouds that have blanketed the nation for a long time. There is, however, at least one possible positive outcome. Some nutrition experts think more people might go back to the basics of eating simple, clean, easy-to-fix foods. Consumers may also take a break from the more expensive restaurants that often serve rich and fatty foods (albeit tasty) and instead head to the kitchen to prepare a home-cooked meal. However, it’s the snacks that might keep the waistline expanding.
According to the NPD Group, a leading market research company, consumer spending at restaurants for the quarter ending September 2009 declined. Visits to quick service/fast food restaurants, which represent the largest share of the industry, as well as casual and mid-scale establishments declined slightly. The company writes on its Web site that an increase in traffic for the restaurant industry might not come until the second half of 2010.
One thing is certain; perhaps thanks to the Internet and other sources that provide easily accessible information, people are becoming more aware of the types of foods that create a healthier diet. Whether or not they’re choosing those foods when they’re hungry is maybe a matter of changing old habits and tastes. But we’re bombarded with poorly made food products and intense marketing campaigns that aim to make consumers want a product that offers no, or very little, real value to them.
The problem, not just during tough economic times, but even in the glory days, is that the busier, more stressed we are, the more we reach for snacks. Unfortunately, many times those snacks are unhealthy but convenient choices. Those poor choices are leading to American’s deteriorating health.
Mintel, a market-research firm, reported double-digit sales gains for salty snacks, popcorn and cheese. The potato-chip market grew 22 percent (a comparison of market data against Mintel’s market estimate for full-year 2009). It seems we’re programmed to enjoy these tastes and, when they’re sold extra cheap, we can’t resist picking them up.
Consumers say finding healthier, delicious-tasting, and fast snacks is challenging. But that doesn’t have to discourage us from trying. I like these snacks for a quick, healthy, boost of energy: pomegranate seeds provide Vitamin C and fiber (you don’t have to do the work to get the goods; Trader Joe’s sells the seeds in plastic packaging, ready to enjoy), almonds (three-ounces a day can provide a good amount of unsaturated fat that helps fight illness and lower cholesterol), and apples. A medium-sized apple is perfect to take the edge off hunger pangs while providing excellent nutrients instead of high-calorie, non-nutritional snacks like chips. These certainly aren’t new snacks and they’re not packaged to entice kids to want them. However, they’re consistent, high quality choices that represent real food instead of modified substances—(high in fat, calories and low in nutrients)—that do little more than make you crave more, eat more, spend more, and thicken your waistline.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 75 percent of U.S. health care spending treats “preventable chronic diseases,” (and, yes, that includes those linked to diet). Obesity alone, in the last two decades, is responsible for 30 percent of the increase in health care costs. So, while the nation remains embattled in contemplating health care reform, you’ve got to wonder what success will come if Americans continue to reach for low quality, nutritionally lacking products that are cheap but provide no other real value. Returning to the basics—real food, more home-cooked meals, and simple living—might be the healthiest and most economical start to decreasing health care spending.