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by Michael Sansolo

ST. HELENA, CA. -- Moving the American public to healthier diets and lifestyles is an enormous goal, but the only way of achieving that goal might well be one small step at a time. And in many cases, those steps will come by teaching consumers to make better dietary choices.

The second day of the World of Healthy Flavors leadership retreat here examined some of the profound health and wellness problems facing Americans, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes and more. A number of speakers detailed the incredible litany of problems facing Americans and detailed what they see as key dietary and lifestyle changes including: eating smaller portions, consuming healthier foods and beverages, and the need for more physical activity. The conference, co-sponsored by the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and Harvard University’s School of Public Health, attracts a diverse group of chefs, dietitians and food specialists from food retailers, restaurants, consumer packaged good suppliers, institutions and more.

A number of speakers talked about the need for incremental improvements among shoppers. Janet King of Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute likened the move for change to a ratchet, with constant slow change and movement in the right direction. Speakers talked about the need to educate shoppers on making some small healthy changes in their diet such as helping them learn which proteins or fats are best for them. One speaker called for a prohibition of the phrase “low fat,” saying science has shown that fat isn’t the problem, especially when there are many healthy fats. Rather the problem is portion size and the types of foods being consumed too frequently by Americans.

The challenge won’t be easy. A panel of school lunch providers explained that one consequence of moving toward healthier fare is a decline in cafeteria use, which then creates budgetary problems. Instead, the panelists said they need to make small improvements and to create links to parents so that any nutritional improvements made during the day aren’t undone at night.
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