Nutrition: What's New on Your Supermarket Shelf? (cont.)

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines' recommendation for three servings a day of whole grains has led to an explosion of new products on supermarket shelves.

Manufacturers have launched new whole-grain breads, crackers, pasta, and cereals. General Mills has reformulated all its cereals to include whole grains, Wonder Bread has developed whole-grain flours that look and taste like refined flours, and pasta makers are scrambling to make good-tasting whole-grain blended pastas.

But what exactly are whole grains, and what can they do for you?

Whole grains contain the entire kernel of the grain, which includes antioxidants and fiber that can protect against heart disease and reduce the risk of breast and colon cancer, says Tallmadge. Dietitians note that people who eat plenty of whole grains also tend to be leaner and have a reduced risk of heart disease.

It may soon get easier to identify whole-grain products. If the FDA responds to an industry request, icons will appear on packages of products made from whole-grain sources. In the meantime, read the label and look for the word "whole" before whatever type of grain was used in the product. Terms like "seven-grain" and "100% wheat" don't necessarily mean it's a whole-grain product.

And with the new recommendations to get five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day, could Mom's urgings to eat our fruits and veggies finally be sinking in?

"Stroll down the frozen or canned aisles to witness the explosion of fruits and vegetables that include seasonings and upscale sauces," says McDonald.

Farm Friendly

Natural and organic foods used to be found primarily in health food stores, but today they line the aisles in most major grocery chains. Gone are the bruised and often unappealing selections, making way for the competitively priced evolution of organic private-label store brands.

"There is a growing awareness that organic foods are more than just pesticide-free, and even if it costs more, the benefits to the consumer become real," says Lempert. "The volume and efficiency of the emerging private-label foods have kept the prices to 10%-15% more than non-organics."

Taste and nutrition, as much as ecological considerations, are driving the move toward organic, experts say. Consumers want familiar products that taste better and are priced competitively, like Frito-Lays' line of natural products.

"When Mom buys organic, she is looking for wholesome nutrition, not necessarily foods with the least impact on the environment," says Gilbert.

Hundreds of products are now labeled "organic," "natural," "homestead," "farmstead," "toxin-free" or "hormone free." But these aren't all necessarily better for you or the environment. The only term regulated by the government is "organic"; all the others are at the discretion of the manufacturer, says McDonald.

Meal Solutions

No one seems to have time to cook anymore, so consumers want good nutrition packaged conveniently. And, of course, these foods need to be great-tasting.

"Moms want solutions and convenience to buy them more time to spend with their families," says Gilbert.

Popular products include snackable items like drinkable yogurts as well as grab-n-go foods that make it easy to throw together meals in no time. Already cooked, preseasoned, and "halfway homemade" are the hottest trends, according to McDonald. And quick-cooking doesn't rule out upscale, she says.

"There are more sophisticated and innovative flavors across all food varieties that are quick and easy to prepare," she says.

According to the Institute for Food Technology, grocery stores now abound with delicate flavors and global influences to help meet our demand for quick meals with interesting flavors. Look for upscale salad mixes and prepackaged dinners, gourmet tuna, fancy cheeses, and gourmet vinegars and sauces.

SOURCES: Food Technology, April 2005. Today's Dietitian, April 2005. Circulation 2001; vol 103. Journal of the American Medical Association, July 23/30, 2003. 2005 Dietary Guidelines, U.S. Department of Agriculture. NPD news release, Aug. 10, 2005. Facts, Figures and the Future newsletter, July 11, 2005. FDA web site. Harry Balzar, vice president, NPD group. Phil Lempert, editor, Facts, Figures and the Future newsletter. Linda McDonald, MS, RD, LD, editor, Supermarket Savvy newsletter. Katherine Tallmadge, RD, spokesperson, American Dietetic Association; author, Diet Simple. Linda Gilbert, president, HealthFocus.

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Last Editorial Review: 10/17/2005 2:00:37 PM