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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Yogurt Changed the Way We Eat

Harry Balzer knows more about the way you eat than anyone in America. His title is nothing special, vice president at the NPD Group. His job is. He studies Americans and food. Every day.

And you're weird.

Every day, someone from the NPD Group is calling 3500 Americans, asking them whether they're gone to a restaurant, and if so, what they ate. The number one food ordered by women? French fries. Burgers are number two, pizza, number three. Salad comes in seventh. Men eat burgers, French fries, pizza in that order.

And NPD hands out notebooks to 3000 families at a time so that the can record everything they eat and drink for 14 days.

Then NPD combines the info and sells it for big bucks in their unique study, Eating Patterns in America, now in its 20th year.

Other findings, according to an article by Robin Mather Jenkins in the Chicago Tribune:

The No. 1 item the average American is most likely to have between meals is . . . .gum!

The fastest growing appliance used by Americans to prepare a meal is . . . the power window. Last year, for 22 percent of all meals purchased at a restaurant, we did not even get out of our cars, a new high! (Would this trend have happened if we still had to hand-crank the windows in our cars?)

The No. 1 snack by children (under 6 years old) is . . ....fruit! Don't be surprised. Parents still control the intake of toddlers and babies. Once they have their 6th birthday, however, look out!

In 1985, 56 percent of all in-home meals included at least one fresh, prepared-from-scratch dish. Last year, that dropped to 46 percent, an all-time low.

It is true that nearly 50 percent of our food budget is spent on meals purchased outside the home, but 77 percent of all meals we eat still come from the home. Restaurant meals are three times the cost of making an in-home meal.

On a typical night, 55 percent of all dinners are prepared by women, and that's unchanged since 1998.


And yogurt? Well, in Belzer's 28 years in the business, he's only named a "food of the day" that's changed America's eating patterns twice. The first was pizza, and now the second is yogurt.

Belzer told Janet Zimmerman of the Press Enterprise that:
"Pizza was what yogurt is today." It is a product that appeals to the fast-growing older and younger generations, a food "they can eat alone, for a main dish, dessert, breakfast, lunch, it doesn't require cleaning up, it's a meal unto itself and it has the perception of being healthy."


(Yes, Belzer gets around. He's a man with an extremely expensive study to promote. He's spends three months a year getting the data together and nine months trying to sell it to clients. He's been quoted in every major paper in the country in June alone.)

And why is yogurt suddenly magic?

Last year, 20.5 percent of all consumers ate yogurt at least once every two weeks, nearly double from 9.6 percent 20 years ago, NPD research shows. The $3 billion-a-year industry has outgrown every other grocery product of the last three decades, and consumption has doubled about every seven years.

Much of the growth can be attributed to yogurt's rise from diet food to favorite snack, now in a dizzying array of colors, textures and packaging, from squeezable tubes to drinkable containers.

The latest craze is probiotics, the "good" bacteria that work to turn milk into yogurt.

The bacterium cultures are now known to have health benefits, including aiding digestion, boosting immunity, treating diarrhea, decreasing yeast infections and possibly, lowering cholesterol. More preliminary studies show that the ancient food may also reduce the incidence of colon tumors and ease allergic reactions.

What's not known is how much and which types of bacteria work.


Not knowing how or why something works might stop me, and those of you who read me and look for some actual science behind a claim. The rest of the American public… Well, look at what's available in the pill aisle at any supermarket or natural food store and you know that we must not care at all about what we put into our mouths. Yogurt and its beneficial bacteria have to be a thousand times healthier than some of the concoctions that come in pill form.

"When you eat the yogurt, you help to help reestablish the good bacteria in your intestinal tract," said Redlands dietician Elaine McFadden, director of nutrition education for Nature's Path foods.

Most commercial yogurt does not contain probiotics because it is pasteurized, a process that kills bacteria, [Chris Krese, spokesman for the National Yogurt Association] said. The National Yogurt Association is pushing the Food and Drug Administration to establish minimum levels of live and active cultures for a product to be called yogurt.
McFadden favors Mountain High yogurt, with its label boasting "billions of live and active cultures." Stonyfield Organic Yogurts are also high in beneficial bacteria.

And there are a host of new products pushing probiotics. Among them: Breyers Light! Probiotics Plus Yogurt, which promises "complete nutrition in a cup"; Activia yogurt, which manufacturer Dannon says regulates the digestive system when eaten daily for two weeks; and DanActive, also from Dannon, a cultured dairy drink.

Health-conscious consumers should read labels, McFadden said.

In addition to containing live and active cultures, the most good-for-you yogurts have less than 20 percent of calories from sugar and less than 30 percent of calories from fat.

I won't argue with that. It's good advice. And the vast majority of people with lactose intolerance can tolerate yogurt with live and active cultures with few if any symptoms.

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