Focus on Eating Patterns Not Single Nutrients

March 26, 2012

Foods should be our focus, and thinking about what our ancestors ate might set us back on track to avoid diet-related health problems and more.

In a recent conversation with Sara Baer-Sinnott, president of Oldways, the Lempert Report was enlightened to the theory about returning to the eating patterns of our ancestors in order to help us avoid diet-related health problems. Oldways recently introduced an African Heritage Diet Pyramid, to do just that. The model incorporates foods not only from the African continent, but from the American South, the Caribbean, and South America.

A recent study presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2012 Scientific Sessions found five distinct dietary patterns that exist among U.S. adults, according to age, race, region, gender, education, and income. The study’s authors feel the five patterns can help both the medical community and consumers understand the role of diet in health and disease disparities between groups.

The five dietary patterns are broadly identified as:

  • Southern: fried, processed meats, and sugar sweetened beverages
  • Traditional: Chinese and Mexican food, pasta dishes, pizza, soup, and other mixed dishes including frozen or take-out meals
  • Healthy: mostly fruits, vegetables, and grains
  • Sweets: large amounts of sweet snacks, and desserts
  • Alcohol: proteins, alcohol, and salads

There is a clear and valuable lesson here for Supermarkets and the way we merchandise foods. Does your store fall into a certain demographic? If so, try and take a healthy spin on the dietary pattern represented by your customers. For example, if you have more of a “traditional” customer, create an end cap that includes healthy frozen meals from different cultures as well as items customers can assemble to make an ethnic meal – think black beans, corn tortillas, fresh veggies for homemade salsa and avocados for guacamole for a Mexican meal. Canned or freshly prepared soups from the prepared foods section should also charm the display.

According to Suzanne Judd, Ph.D., study author and assistant professor of biostatistics at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, “We believe focusing research on dietary patterns better represents how people eat, compared to single foods or nutrients.”

Other interesting findings from the research highlighting clear differences in dietary patterns across demographic and socioeconomic groups include:

  • Men, African Americans, people making less than $35,000 a year and those who weren’t college graduates were more likely to follow the Southern pattern of eating VS women, those who made more money, or those who were more educated.
  • Blacks tended to not eat the alcohol dietary pattern.
  • People ages 45 to 54 tended to eat a traditional dietary pattern.
  • Those 75 years and older were likely to not eat the traditional dietary pattern.
  • College educated adults tended to not eat the Southern dietary pattern.