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American diets, goals not aligned with recommendations

American diet goals, reccomendations sodium fiber protein.jpg
As a new year begins, many Americans are re-evaluating their diets. But do their 2022 goals align with health recommendations?

As a new year begins, it is once again time for millions of consumers the world over to reassess their diets and lifestyles. January 1 has traditionally served as a time of resolutions, and consumers are seeking to take control of their health via the foods they eat in increasing numbers as the world enters its third year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, a recent report from the NPD Group indicates American consumers’ diet goals for the new year may not align with what health authorities are recommending.

According to the NPD Group’s data, consumers are most focused on improving protein intake heading in 2022. But government-recommended health guidelines are instead focused on increasing fiber, not protein, intake while also limiting sodium. According to NPD, 41% of American adults indicated they hope or intend to increase protein consumption this year. Interestingly, they also found most Americans do not actually require more protein, based on recommendations. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommend 0.36 g of protein per pound of body weight per day, equal to roughly 56 g/day for the average man and 46 g/day for women. What they found, though, is that the average American adult consumes roughly 75 g/day of protein, far exceeding the recommended amount regardless of sex. On the other hand, just 35% of consumers indicated a desire to increase their fiber intake despite nearly all age groups among both men and women falling short of recommended intake.

Sodium intake was another area where current intake and recommended intake still have a chasm to close. USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend a little under 2,300 mg—about one teaspoon—of sodium per day; NPD Group found the average adult consumes about 2,926 mg/day of sodium.

“In the food and beverage industry, health and wellness is a constantly moving target, and the question is always, ‘what will and won’t stick?,” said Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst at The NPD Group, in a statement. “Food manufacturers and retailers can better position their products by understanding their consumers’ nutritional gaps and goals for living healthier lives. They can also help to educate consumers.”

Food & Beverage Insider insights

Despite repeated recommendations for Americans to increase their fiber intake, the average American is still consuming just about half the recommended daily serving. However, there does seem to be increasing awareness around the fiber gap; proprietary SPINS data from 2020 indicated about 55% of U.S. consumers consider high fiber content an important attribute.  

Sodium, along with sugar, has become one of consumers’ top ingredient villains over recent years. And according to the CDC, more than 40% of the average American’s sodium intake can be linked to just 10 foods—bread/rolls, pizza, sandwiches, cured meat/deli, soups, burritos/tacos, cheese, savory snacks, chicken and eggs.

The solution to both conundrums—too little fiber, too much sodium—may lie in the available options. While innovations in the snack aisle continue at a torrid pace, foods that deliver on taste while also limiting ingredients like sodium or adding things like fiber will be the key to improved eating. Additionally, improved messaging will continue to be essential; while Americans, on average, seem aware of the need to cut down on sodium, the need to improve fiber intake (as well as the fact that protein intake is higher than need be) should continue to be highlighted.

With the new year just beginning and the pandemic still raging, improved diet and wellness will surely be on the minds of many consumers; it is now up to industry to assist these consumers and provide both insight into what a healthy diet looks like, and options to maintain one.

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