Health food movement challenges modern diet

Millie Mccord, Staff writer
May 7, 2012

According to a study by the Center for Disease Control, about 3 out of 10 college students are obese.

There’s been a trend towards eating healthier and college students are catching on. “People are getting more concerned about what they’re eating,” says student Robin Omeryar. “So many people are overweight and I think we’re starting to do something about it.”

“I have definitely seen an increase of interest in nutrition since I started teaching. I believe consumers are more educated and are making wiser food choices than they were several years ago,” says DVC nutrition professor Lisa Sawrey-Kubicek.

California enacted a law in 2011 that requires fast food restaurants to put the calorie count on their menus. Information available on the Internet and nutrition books from dietitians and food experts help us make better decisions on what is healthy or unhealthy.

The recent “pink slime” scandal and documentaries like Food, Inc., Supersize Me and Fast Food Nation have helped expose the truth behind massive food production and what really goes into making our food, but even fast food giants like McDonald’s have gotten in on the healthy food market by introducing healthier items to their menus like salads and fruit cups.

Increasingly companies market their products as low-cholesterol, fat free, sugar free, gluten-free, antioxidant-full and all-around healthier.

“I’ve seen more healthy foods becoming available. Even in elementary school they started taking out the really unhealthy stuff and replacing it with those 100-calorie snacks,” says Robin Omeryar.

“I tell my students to be very wary of marketing techniques, especially when it comes to food. With that said, there is a role for fat-free and gluten-free foods,” says Kubicek. “For most of the population, fat free milk is a great example of a fat-free product that is much better alternative to whole milk.”

The Pleasant Hill Wellness Center at the DVC Plaza is a convenient substitute for less healthy foods. “We’ve seen an incredible increase in business just in the past year and a half,” says employee Donna McCoy. “Students are coming as an alternative to the fast food places around here and really seeing a difference in how they feel after coming for just a little while.”

Organics have become increasingly popular. The US organic food market is relatively new; the The US Department of Agriculture didn’t adopt national standards for organics until 2002. Organics don’t use traditional pesticides or fertilizers in production and don’t contain genetically modified organisms or chemical additives.

Still, consumers are willing to pay more for organics. “The trend towards organics is a positive thing, but the prices are a little over the top. They’re a little too much for most people,” says student Luis Gonzalez. Consumption of organic food is growing at a rate of 20 percent a year, according to the Agricultural Research Marketing Center. The number of farmers markets has exploded from 1,755 registered in 1994, to 7,175 in 2011, according to USDA records.

“Superfood” crazes like Acai berries, cocoa leaves, quinoa and most recently Chia seeds supposedly have astounding (unverified) health benefits. “People are looking for a quick fix. What types of food you should be eating really depend on your needs, but the super food idea is mostly a marketing ploy,” says culinary student Victor Ilog.

Gluten-free products, once almost exclusively for those with Celiac’s disease or gluten sensitivities, are enjoying booming popularity.

But the idea that gluten-free foods are healthier may be a fallacy. “Unless you have a real problem digesting gluten, and the vast majority of people do not, there’s no reason to follow that diet,” said dietitian Valerie Edwards in an interview with a Portland news station.

“I think people should eat healthy anyway, regardless of the trends,” says student Fernando Castio. “It just makes you feel better.”

“I’ve noticed that those products are everywhere now,” says student Rohit Dugar. “I think it’s just a fad, something new and different. People are being more health-conscious, though, which is good.”

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