The pandemic and other factors in 2020 have not only changed the way consumers relate to food but also how they evaluate their food choices and perceive nutrition in general. With unprecedented access to research-based information as well as new technological tools, consumers are better understanding the connection between nutrition and wellness, leading to greater personalization of their diets.
One of the more positive outcomes from the COVID-19 pandemic has been the increase in the number of people cooking meals at home, according to Odessa Keenan, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service program coordinator for the “Dinner Tonight” initiative. For the majority of 2020, more people have begun — or returned to — cooking at home. And while this trend began mainly out of necessity, it will likely continue because people have found it to be an enjoyable experience. Home meal preparation allows people to personalize their food choices, is generally healthier and less expensive, saves travel time and makes it easier to watch calories.
Preparing meals and dining at home also helps with family bonding and creates a more intimate experience than taking the family to a crowded restaurant. Not only that, cooking with the family helps teach kids an important skill and can help them create healthier eating habits, according to Keenen. Home cooking also allows the flexibility of choosing more healthful ingredients for making meals with fewer calories, saturated fats and sugars. This is a trend that has been growing and we expect to continue through 2021 and beyond.
Another trend is more attention to food quality and the food chain. Consumers want to know where and how their food is grown — and what, if any, alterations are made to a product before it gets to their table. People are increasingly curious and knowledgeable about ingredients and nutritional content, as well as where their foods come from. The current nutrition facts label can be very helpful in finding the healthiest options.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also made consumers more aware of the importance of nutrition in a healthy immune system. Jenna Anding, Ph.D. professor and AgriLife Extension specialist in the Department of Nutrition and Food Science in Texas A&M’s College of Agriculture and Life Science, said the protein found in lean meats, poultry, eggs, seafood, beans, peas and nuts can help support the immune system. So does vitamin A, which is found in carrots, broccoli, spinach, sweet potatoes, red bell peppers, apricots and other foods fortified with vitamin A such as milk. The same goes for vitamin C found in citrus fruits, strawberries, bell peppers and tomatoes. Vitamin E, which is found in sunflower seeds, almonds, peanut butter and avocados, works as an antioxidant and can also help support immune function. Zinc, found in poultry, seafood, lean meats, milk, whole grains, beans, seeds and nuts, also supports the immune system and plays a role in wound healing. Other beneficial nutrients include vitamins B6, B12 and folate as well as minerals such as copper, selenium and iron. The best way to obtain these nutrients is through food.
No single nutrient is going to protect you from illness, but by choosing a diet that includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods, including fruits, vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, nuts, seeds and low-fat dairy products, your new year will be off to a good start.