Many health studies have shown phytonutrients -- plant-based components found in fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, teas and even chocolate – offer a wide variety of health benefits. But many consumers are confused about what they are and how they work.
A team of scientists said that’s because the nation’s food industry hasn’t made a priority of using marketing efforts using “simple yet powerful language to tell consumers about the benefits of a diet rich in phytonutrients,” such as beta carotene and lycopene. Another factor: The daily barrage of nutrition studies and dietary advice may leave many consumers uncertain about what to believe.
At a meeting of the Institute of Food Technologists this week, the experts noted many consumers are “weary of constantly changing nutritional recommendations,” which may cause them to feel overwhelmed and possibly decide to forgo healthy eating altogether.
The solution is for food scientists and experts “to agree on appropriate messages and then present those simply and consistently to consumers,” said Connie Diekman, director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis.
"It has to be easy for consumers to make this part of what they do in their diet," Diekman said. "When we question each other, the consumer really gets confused and thinks, 'If scientists can't agree, where does that leave me?’ ”
For example, Diekman noted that dark chocolate contains beneficial phytonutrients. But consumers may not know the benefits are limited to dark chocolate – not milk chocolate – and that eating too much of any kind of chocolate can lead to serious health conditions.
Diekman suggested promoting "strongly flavored, darkly colored" foods, and taking care to highlight the importance of phytonutrients as part of the whole food.