Making Healthy Food Choices
Synopsis: Few Baby Boomers actually understand the health benefits of omega-3 fats. National Study: Just How Knowledgeable Are Canada's Boomers When It Comes to Making Healthy Food Choices
Main DigestNational Study: Just How Knowledgeable Are Canada's Boomers When It Comes to Making Healthy Food Choices
Majority read information about "fat" first, but few understand benefits, sources of healthy Omega-3 fats. When it comes to reading information on food packages, the majority of Canada's Baby Boomers are all about the fats.
According to a national survey by Leger Marketing released today, more than three quarters (77 percent) of Boomers say they actively read the nutrition facts panel today as compared to five years ago. When asked to choose what nutrition information is most important to them, Boomers mention fat most often (66 percent) followed by sodium (54 percent), calories (47 percent) and cholesterol (32 percent).
But for a demographic so concerned about fats, few Boomers actually understand the health benefits of omega-3 fats despite the fact that Canada's Food Guide recommends pro-actively including a small amount - 30 to 45 mL (2 to 3 tablespoons) - of unsaturated fat each day. Less than one-third of Boomers (30 percent) are able to identify the three main types of healthy omega-3 polyunsaturated fats. And, despite the fact that seven in 10 Boomers (72 percent) consider themselves to be educated about the benefits of omega-3 fats, half (50 percent) do not know that emerging research demonstrates that healthy diets containing DHA and EPA can help contribute to heart health.
"These findings highlight that when it comes to reading labels, Canadian Boomers are focusing on fats," says Maria Ricupero, Registered Dietitian, Cardiac Rehabilitation. "Most seem to understand that saturated fats should be limited and trans fats should be avoided, but they don't know that omega-3s should be sought out. The great news here is that adding omega-3 fats to your diet is easy and delicious. You can start by choosing foods enhanced with DHA and/or EPA like soft, non-hydrogenated margarine, eggs, milk and yogurt. A product like Becel Omega3plus margarine, a source of omega-3s, which has a combination of ALA, DHA and EPA, can be a good option for today's Boomer. Enjoying more fatty fish such as salmon, rainbow trout and mackerel is also a great way to increase DHA and EPA intake. For essential ALA, try adding ground flaxseeds to your breakfast cereal or walnuts in your baking."
Boomers' Knowledge of Omega-3s
Though close to two-thirds (64 percent) of Canadian Boomers look for food options that are rich in omega-3 compared to five years ago, a vast number are unable to identify foods beyond fish specifically known for their omega-3 benefits
- 86 percent of Boomers acknowledge that fish like salmon, rainbow trout and mackerel contain omega-3 fat
- But many still don't know that foods like soybeans (54 percent); walnuts (44 percent) and flaxseeds (36 percent) also contain omega-3 polyunsaturated fats
- 74 percent of Canadian Boomers do not know that ALA is an essential omega-3 fat
- 62 percent do not know that ALA, which is found in plant-based foods like walnuts, soy and flax, cannot be produced by our own bodies
- More than one-third (36 percent) of Boomers do not know that a healthy, balanced diet includes all three omega-3 fats
Boomers are Changing Habits for the Better
The good news is that this health-concerned group has made conscious efforts to better their dietary choices over the last five years:
- The majority agree that they look for more heart healthy food choices (85 percent) and they consume less saturated fat and trans fat (86 percent)
- 64 percent look for products that are rich in omega-3
- 58 percent follow Canada's Food Guide more closely
- 59 percent consume more soft, non-hydrogenated margarine than butter in their daily diet
- 79 percent eat fewer foods that are high in sodium (e.g. potato chips, nachos and other salty snacks)
About the Survey
The survey was conducted using Leger Marketing's web panel between Thursday, June 11th and Thursday, June 18th, 2009 and was sponsored by Unilever Canada. A total of 1,133 interviews were completed with Canadian adults between the ages of 35 and 64. Of those 1,133 respondents, 318 were between the ages of 35-44 and 815 were between the ages of 45-64. Using a national random sample of respondents, this method simulates a probability sample, which would yield a maximum margin of error of +\-2.9%, 19 times out of 20.
About Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fats
Omega-3s are not one single nutrient, but a collection of polyunsaturated fats, including (1) alpha-linolenic acid or ALA, (2) docosahexaenoic acid or DHA and (3) eicosapentaenic acid or EPA. While ALA, an essential fat not produced by the human body, is found in plant-based foods like walnuts, soybeans, flaxseeds and canola oil; DHA and EPA are found in fatty fish, such as salmon, sardines and mackerel. Foods enhanced with these polyunsaturated fats, such as soft margarines, eggs and dairy products are also good options to help increase your daily intake of omega-3s.
Since each omega-3 has different, but important health benefits, it is important for Canadians to consume all three types every day. In fact, the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) developed by the Institute of Medicine, National Academies Press, recommends that adult men 18 years of age or older should consume 1.6 grams of ALA, while adult women should consume 1.1 grams daily. North Americans should also consume 0.5 grams of DHA and EPA per day.
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