Was your breakfast this morning healthy? How exactly do you know? Truth be told, when it comes to nutrition, a lot of us are still scratching our heads. Right, when we feel certain our diets are considered healthy, a new celebrity nutritionist arises — and suddenly — what we thought was a healthy, nutritious meal is actually clogging our arteries.
A new study proves that most Americans are confused about nutrition and what “healthy” exactly entails. The 2017 Food & Health Survey found that consumers rely on nutrition information they don’t trust and that 80% of Americans report finding conflicting information about which foods to avoid and which to eat.
As an employer, these findings are a wake-up call if you are encouraging positive nutritional choices at your company. While employees might be trying to eat healthier, they are most likely confused on what “healthy” means. This confusion can lead to employees feeling burnt out and eventually wanting to give up on a healthy diet altogether.
So, what can an employer do to help make “healthy” easier to understand for employees? Implementing a wellness program with a focus on nutrition might be the ultimate solution. Read on to learn more about nutrition confusion and how a wellness program might be able to help.
Why Are Your Employees Confused?
The study mentioned above reveals that “healthy” can be confusing, but what is it that makes healthy choices so difficult? According to the study, more than half of the survey respondents say that conflicting information causes them to question their eating habits and doubt the choices they make. For example, while an employee might read one article online telling them that red meat is healthy on occasion, a different nutrition blog will tell them to steer clear of red meat completely. The question of steak being a part of a healthy diet remains unclear, causing both confusion and frustration.
Even more interesting is that Americans tend to listen to family and friends over professionals when it comes to nutrition advice. The study showed that while respondents view nutritionists and healthcare professionals as the most trusted sources for dietary guidance, friends and family are still more likely to be the most frequent sources for nutrition information. This might be due to the ease of asking a family member or friend for nutrition advice over calling a doctor or paying to consult with a nutritionist.
When respondents were asked if they could name a food or nutrient associated with a desired health benefit, only 45% of respondents could do so. Examples of this included asking participants to name a food or nutrient associated with weight loss benefits or cardiovascular benefits. This reveals that Americans aren’t educated enough about health benefits of certain healthy foods or nutrients. While it might be obvious to many adults that eating fried foods would not lead to heart health benefits, many are still in the dark about foods that would be beneficial to heart health, such as healthy fats and whole grains.
Another recent study shows the difference of opinion on everyday foods between experts and the public. The study surveyed hundreds of nutritionists from the American Society for Nutrition along with a sample of the general public for comparison. The participants were presented with 52 common foods and asked if they would rate the food as “healthy”. Several common foods differed greatly in opinion. The common food with the biggest gap in opinion was a granola bar, with 71% of the public rating it as healthy and only 28% of nutritionists rating it as healthy. This gap demonstrates how the general public can be deceived on what foods are actually healthy by misleading claims on products. Unhealthy and processed food products, such as certain granola bars, are often labeled and advertised as “healthy” or “natural” – when instead they are actually full of added sugars, high in carbs and low in protein.
Another reason why “healthy” is confusing is because the world of nutrition is constantly evolving. Take the food pyramid, for example. Remember when refined carbs such as bread, pasta and cereals were the recommended “healthy” base of diets? The American government’s Food Guide Pyramid in 1992 recommended to eat six to eleven servings of these carbs each day. After obesity rates continued to soar, more scientific research was conducted throughout the years to shape what is considered a healthy diet today – healthy fats, protein, whole grains, less sugar and, of course, plenty of fruits and vegetables. If employees haven’t been kept up-to-date on modern dietary guidelines, they might think they are eating healthily, but, unfortunately, they could be very wrong.
How A Wellness Program Can Help
Introducing employees to a wellness program that offers a focus on nutrition will help guide employees who are trying to improve their diets and eat more healthily. If your company already has a wellness program in place but doesn’t offer nutrition education, advice or resources, you should strongly consider adding these elements. When employees feel like they don’t have the education or resources they need to make healthy choices, confusion and frustration trump the motivation to eat well.
Here are some examples to help make nutrition simple with a corporate wellness program:
• Educate employees on nutrition by hosting an onsite seminar with a nutritionist or healthcare professional. Offer trustworthy resources to employees about healthy eating habits.
• Encourage employees to focus on eating more fruits and veggies instead of processed food.
• Teach employees the difference between healthy foods and healthier alternatives. For example, frozen yogurt is a healthier alternative to ice cream. However, it is not a healthy food that should regularly be eaten.
• Encourage employees to cook their own meals at home instead of dining out.
• Offer onsite cooking classes or discounts for employees to take a cooking class.
• Offer information on the benefits of meal prepping along with some health meal-prep ideas for work.
• Send out nutritious recipes once a week.
• Host a healthy office potluck once a month.
• Offer employees weight management programs and classes such as Weight Watchers onsite.
• Provide employees with discounted consultations with a nutritionist.
• Encourage employees to talk to their doctor about their diet during their regular checkups.
• Replace processed and sugary snacks in office kitchens and break rooms with healthy snacks (nuts, fresh fruit, veggies, Greek yogurt).
• Start nutrition challenges. Challenge employees to keep a food journal, eat more veggies each day, or cook all meals at home for one full week. Reward employees who participate and complete these nutrition challenges.
• Keep all nutrition information up-to-date. This may require some research on the employers’ part, but making sure nutrition advice is factual and comes from a reliable source will gain employees’ trust.
Helping employees overcome the confusion over healthy foods will benefit both employees and their companies in many ways. Once employees understand what it means to eat healthily and create healthy eating habits, employers can expect a major boost in productivity, general wellness and overall health around the office. Getting smart about eating takes some work, but it all starts with education. Use a wellness program to make “healthy” more achievable and less confusing for your employees.
Alan Kohll is the founder and president of health and wellness service provider, TotalWellness. Follow TotalWellness on LinkedIn and Twitter.