We often think we’re eating healthy and living right, when in reality, not so much.
Nearly 90 per cent of 1,234 adults taking part in a Consumer Reports survey late last year thought their diets were at least somewhat, very or extremely healthy.
But when they revealed what they were actually eating, their consumption left a bit to be desired.
Only 30 per cent said they eat five or more servings of fruit and vegetables every day, and another 28 per cent say they get that many servings on most days.
Just over half said they regularly try to limit how many sweets and how much fat they eat, and just 8 per cent said they monitor their daily calorie intake.
And there was a common tendency for people to see themselves as slimmer than they actually are.
About a third of those surveyed who reported having a healthy weight had a body mass index in the overweight and obese range when they revealed their actual height and weight. Even that may be a tad suspect, since only 13 per cent said they weigh themselves regularly.
So what if we get better nutrition information in front of us about what we’re about to eat?
The experience recorded at a chain of taco restaurants around Seattle after King County required menu labeling is not very encouraging.
People eat what they’re used to eating, and they eat what they want to eat, regardless of what the nutrition label says.
The local health department and researchers from Duke University found that 13 months after calorie counts were posted at the counters, there was no difference in food-purchasing behavior between restaurants in that county and elsewhere.
The total number of sales and the average calories bought per transaction were unaffected by the menu labeling.
Researchers pointed out that the chain, Taco Time, was already posting “Healthy Highlights” logos beside items that were relatively lower in fat and calories for some time before the labels were required, so consumers inclined to be guided into eating healthier may already have changed their ways.
However, nutrition facts have been required for prepackaged foods in the U.S. for years, and seem to have made little impact on the national expansion, noted Eric Finkelstein, an associate professor of health services at Duke.
He was lead author of the study, published in the February issue of the American Journal for Preventative Medicine.
Two recent European studies offer still more reasons for eating five servings a day of fruits and vegetables.
First, a study of 300,000 people in eight European countries concluded that eating more fruits and vegetables is linked to a lower risk of dying from ischemic heart disease (characterized by reduced blood flow to the heart).
Specifically, the study showed that risk of dying from that form of heart disease was four per cent lower for each portion above two a day consumed, up to eight or more portions a day.
The researchers noted that folks with higher fruit and veggie intake also tend to have other healthy eating habits and lifestyles.
They can’t say from this study whether something in the produce itself benefits the heart’s circulation or whether higher consumption is among factors that reduce risk.
Scientists at the University of St. Andrews and Bristol University report that people who eat more portions of fruit and vegetables each day have a more golden skin color, and that lab subjects asked to rate the attractiveness of people with such skin tones gave them higher marks that those who had gotten color from exposure to the sun.
The coloring from the fruits and veggies comes from carotenoids, a type of antioxidant that helps boost the immune system.
The study was published in journal Evolution and Human Behavior.
If you’re interested in finding out how closely your eating habits follow the Canada Food Guide, or would like to learn about making changes in your own family menus, you can learn a lot on Health Canada’s web site for the guide.
For instance, it’s easy to know how many servings of certain nutrients you’re eating, if your plate has a portion of rice or potatoes, vegetables and meat separately.
But what if you’re making casserole tonight?
The guide has links to help you determine your needs, and even provides a tracker that can be personalized for you, considering age, gender and weight. You can also access a menus planner, to help you ensure your family is getting a nutritious balanced diet.
The guide is free, and can be downloaded to view at your leisure. Just seach: Canada Food Guide and follow the links.
Lee Bowman is a health and science writer for the Scripps Howard News Service.