On the Table

We're making progress in our diet and health

CORRESPONDENTOctober 12, 2011 

It's good to reflect from time to time on the progress we've made in matters of diet and health.

The big world of food and nutrition is a challenging mix of pleasure and puzzle. Like me, you probably love to eat but have to work at understanding how your choices affect your health, as well as the environment and animal welfare.

It's the reason for this column. It's also the underlying rationale for a national campaign - Food Day - scheduled for Oct. 24 and sponsored by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest.

'Eat real'

Modeled after Earth Day, the idea is for this to be an annual event across the country that gets us to change the way we eat and think about food. The key message: "Eat real," and support healthful, affordable food grown in a sustainable way.

A local celebration is planned 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Oct. 24 at the Legislative Building in Raleigh. For more details, check out North Carolina Food Day on Facebook.

There's a lot to celebrate.

From schools to labels

We've come a long way in just 15 years:

School meals are healthier. The mid-1990s brought a new requirement for school meals to comply with U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a no-brainer you might think, but something that had not been mandated.

Schools are steadily making progress by cutting the saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol in meals and increasing the fiber from fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

School districts also must have a policy describing how they plan to improve the nutritional quality of foods served as well as levels of physical activity for kids. It's fed into interest in school gardens, adding nutrition to school curricula, and support for farm-to-school programs to get more locally grown produce on kids' plates.

We're trans-fat-free, for the most part. New food labeling requirements for the artery-clogging fat exposed their levels in common foods like cookies, crackers and french fries.

That transparency led quickly to food companies' reformulating products to get the bad fat out.

There's more choice. Demographic changes have spurred the arrival of more - and often healthier - ethnic foods in supermarkets and restaurants.

It's also common to find almond milk, soy milk, meatless cold cuts and veggie burgers. Natural foods stores have become mainstream, as have vegetarian options in restaurants.

Soda out, water in

There's more information. New requirements for menu labeling at restaurants make it easier to make informed choices.

Soft drinks are on their way out. The contribution of caloric drinks such as sweet tea and soft drinks to weight problems is why they're being banned from schools and vending machines.

There's greater recognition of the superiority of water with meals and between. Think of how many times now you hear your friends asking for water with their restaurant meals.

Vegetarian diets are in. Even federal nutrition guidelines - notorious for supporting American agriculture while also issuing diet advice - now support the idea of meat-free meals.

There's consensus among the scientific community that plant-based diets are best for human health.

Of course, we still have a ways to go. More about that next week.

Suzanne Havala Hobbs is a licensed, registered dietitian and clinical associate professor at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. Email her at suzanne@onthetable.net.

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service