Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Eating vegetables-The wide gap between nutritional needs and actual availability in the US

Fruits and vegetables form an important component of a healthy diet and their neglect in preference to other foods like meat and highly processed foods has led to a gigantic health crisis in many western countries. Blaming the food processing industry for marketing their so called unhealthy foods rich in sugar, salt and or fat is not fair because every consumer has a right to choose the food he or she wants with out any compulsion. If we concede this basic reality, why is the consumer invariably neglecting these protective foods and patronizing high calorie, high fat, high salt foods available in the market. There  may be many reasons such as easy availability of packed foods, their low cost, high convenience factor, shelf stability, high taste coefficient etc. But one of the critical factors which emerged recently in a country like the US is a shocking mismatch between production of fruits and vegetables and actual availability nation wide. This means even if the consumer makes a conscious move to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables in his diet,production and an imbalance in supplies force him to  continue the faulty consumption pattern predominated by processed foods.Here is a take on this shocking revelation as reported recently raising many eyebrow recently.

"If you  are looking for proof that Americans' vegetable habits lean towards french fries and ketchup, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has it: Nearly 50 percent of vegetables and legumes available in the U.S. in 2013 were either tomatoes or potatoes. Lettuce came in third as the most available vegetable, according to new data out this week. And while the USDA's own dietary guidelines recommend that adults consume 2.5 to 3 cups of vegetables a day, the agency's researchers foundthat only 1.7 cups per person are available. "The dietary guidelines promote variety," Jeanine Bentley, a social science analyst at the USDA's Economic Research Service, tells The Salt. "But when you look at it, there isn't much variety. Mostly people consume potatoes, tomatoes and lettuce." (The data technically tally domestic production and imports, then subtract exports, but researchers commonly use them as a proxy for consumption.) The federal dietary guidelines do not recommend relying primarily on potatoes, tomatoes and lettuce for most of our vegetable needs. They prescribe a varied mix that includes dark leafy greens, orange and yellow vegetables, and beans—along with those potatoes and tomatoes. And they want us to eat them because they help reduce the risk for heart disease, stroke and some cancers as well as help keep us at a healthy weight. So the vegetables that are available don't really match what we're supposed to be eating. What about what we are actually eating? Some 87 percent of adults failed to meet the vegetable intake recommendations during 2007-2010, according to recent survey datafrom the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The survey found a lot of variation state to state — with 5.5 percent of people in Mississippi getting enough vegetables to 13 percent in California meeting the recommendations.
Most people are likely to be eating tomatoes and potatoes, but as the USDA has noted, we often get them in the not-so-nutritious forms of french fries and pizza. About one-third of potatoes, and two-thirds of tomatoes, were bound for processing — think chips, sweetened pizza sauce and ketchup. All these numbers beg some questions: Do our lopsided habits mean that Americans are merely eating what's on offer, a kind of supply-side theory of diet? Or are all those potatoes and tomatoes crowding out spinach and Brussels sprouts because they're what consumers demand?
"We have a serious disconnect between agriculture and health policy in our country," said Marion Nestle, a leading nutrition researcher and author at New York University. "The USDA does not support 'specialty crops' [like vegetables] to any appreciable extent and the Department of Commerce' figures show that the relative price of fruits and vegetables has gone up much faster than that of fast food or sodas." So while Americans are told to eat fruits and vegetables for their health, the government has meanwhile mostly just subsidized other crops that end up in cheaper, less healthy processed food. "Price has a lot to do with this," she adds. Although this week's USDA report focuses on the limited variety of vegetables available to American shoppers, other agency data suggest that the country simply doesn't offer enough vegetables, period. A 2010study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine estimated that the U.S. vegetable supply would need to increase by 70 percent — almost entirely in dark leafy greens, orange vegetables and legumes — in order for Americans to meet recommended daily allowances at the time.

With a dietary landscape like that, it's entirely possible that Americans are choosing potatoes and tomatoes, at least for now, says Lindsey Haynes-Maslow, a food systems and health analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "What I see here with lots of potatoes, tomatoes and lettuce … [is] that people are used to these items, and habits are hard to break," says Maslow, adding that relying mostly on the potatoes, tomatoes and lettuce "doesn't cut it," nutrition-wise. Still, she says, "If more Americans got used to eating more fruits and vegetables they might be demanding more of it," she says. "But it's really hard to demand something you've not grown up with." That's why behavioral economists are so keen to figure out how to nudge kids to try and develop a taste for more vegetables — they're researching everything from financial incentives to arranging food differently on the lunch line. And there's some hopeful news in that department: The CDC recently reported that, since the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, there's been a big increase in the number of schools serving two or more vegetables and whole grain-rich foods every day.Most interesting of all, that food isn't just on kids plates: It's getting eaten, too. A Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity study of kids' lunch habits following the passage of the bill found that kids ate more fruit, threw away fewer vegetables and ate more of their now-healthier entrees, too."

To add further misery to the citizens in that country, even the available basket of fresh produce is heavily loaded in favor of potatoes, tomatoes and lettuce with greens and other healthy vegetables constituting hardly 10-20%! Over all the production base needs to be expanded by almost 70% if ideal situation is to be attained.Most painful data is that the prices of vegetables and fruits have been going up much faster that that of junk foods providing another justification for low income groups to ignore them for economic reasons. Obviously this is not an acceptable situation for any responsible nation professing to protect its citizens from diseases consequent to shortage of protective foods and their high cost. It is not that the US government is not doing any thing in this front but much more needs to be done to address this vital issue in the coming years.


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