“If it doesn’t taste good, people won’t eat it.”
—Jacques Pépin, French chef
Dietary counseling to improve health has traditionally included advice on adding fresh fruits and vegetables, high-fiber grains and cereals, and low- or reduced-fat dairy and meat products to the typical diet.Consumers are usually and perhaps necessarily advised to “avoid,” “limit,” “reduce,” or “control” the intake of certain foods and/or nutrients to achieve their dietary goals. Despite several decades of public nutrition education and individual dietary counseling, it seems many consumers cannot or will not convert dietary instruction into practice, and nutrition education alone does not always produce the desired dietary changes. Consumers are interested in foods that provide function and better health, but recent research has indicated that they fear such foods will not taste as good. For consumers, the word “food” means flavor, fun, enjoyment, taste, and motivation; the word “nutrition” speaks of rules, boring and not-so-tasty foods, less freedom, more work, and deprivation. It is no wonder the traditional approach to dietary change is not working as well as we would like.
WHAT CONSUMERS SAY ABOUT HEALTHY FOOD
Consumers perceive barriers to eating functional foods and adopting healthy eating patterns. In a recent survey of 1005 Americans aged 18 to 80 years of age, 55% said health-promoting foods and food components were too costly, whereas 31% said they sometimes do not taste as good. These barriers were considered major reasons for not eating healthy foods more frequently.
ADDING SPICES AND HERBS HELPS CONSUMERS OVERCOME BARRIERS TO HEALTHY EATING
Adding spices and herbs to the diet boosts flavor and variety; may contribute antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds, and other bioactive components; and can help consumers overcome some barriers to meeting their dietary goals. For example, adding a variety of spices and herbs to carrots, potatoes, and leafy greens will give budget-conscious consumers a different taste nearly every day. Cooking classes can convince consumers that adding spices and herbs enhances natural flavors without calories. Low- or reduced-fat fruit and vegetable dishes and dairy foods prepared with added spices and herbs can readily be incorporated into weight control diets. It has been shown that even preschool children will eat more celery and squash when the vegetables are paired with a low-fat, herb-flavored dip.
CHANGING CONSUMER ATTITUDES
Consumers are already receptive to experiencing a broader range of flavors. Witness the explosion of ethnic restaurants. Even school lunch menus now feature foods such as hummus—not only because it is a healthful food, but because it tastes good. Indeed, flavoring foods with spices and herbs may be 1 of the best ways to help improve the dietary patterns of Americans. Although convenience rules consumers’ food choices, food producers and manufacturers can add spices and herbs to packaged foods to produce a flavorful product that both pleases the consumer palate and contains less sodium. Producers of underconsumed food groups such as whole grains, low-fat dairy foods, fruits, and vegetables can use spices and herbs to prepare ready-made flavor combinations and emphasize less salt. Nutrition professionals can communicate the message that flavor can be added easily and economically to every food group and encourage consumers to season foods to their liking with less salt, fat, and sugar. Policymakers can leverage the flavor and health benefits of spices and herbs in institutional menu planning for schools, the military, and hospitals. Consumers themselves can learn to use more spices and herbs in cooking and at the table.
Spices and herbs can be added to a single dish, a single portion, or a single bite. By taking them out of the pantry and putting them on the table, consumers can enjoy more control over their at-home meals while also personalizing flavor. Consumers should be encouraged to use culinary spices and herbs regularly to help meet their dietary goals.