Summer is (almost) upon us and plenty of Americans are working on their beach body. Many will be adopting a protein-rich diet in their mission to look better in a bathing suit. As an industry, poultry needs to make sure it’s on the menu for the nation’s dieters.    

Avoiding sugar and carbohydrates

A survey published by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation in May 2018 said 36 percent of Americans are on a specific eating pattern or diet – an increase from 14 percent according to the same survey in 2017. Young people are more likely to be on a diet as well.

Perhaps more interesting is the consumer’s increasing rejection of carbohydrates and sugars. The survey said 16 percent of all respondents who said they are on a diet use a low-carb-related program. Additionally, 33 percent of Americans think sugar is the most likely source of weight gain and 25 percent think carbohydrates are the most likely source. In 2017, by comparison, 20 percent of respondents said carbohydrates were making them fat.

The IFIC report on consumer shopping habits, health beliefs and label perception is based on an online survey taken in March 2018. According to its website, IFIC's foundation is “dedicated to the mission of effectively communicating science-based information on health, nutrition and food safety for the public good.”

Fad diets or a real change?

The survey also asked what diets consumers are most likely to follow, and the top results are as follows:

  • Intermittent fasting, 10 percent
  • Paleo, 7 percent
  • Low-carb, 5 percent
  • Whole30, 5 percent
  • High-protein, 4 percent
  • Ketogenic/High-fat, 3 percent.

Whether it be paleo – eating what cavemen supposedly ate; keto – forcing ketosis, understood as when the body burns fats instead of sugars for energy; or Whole30 – a cleanse-style diet that preaches no sugar and no carbs for 30 days, all these diets prohibit breads, pastas, sides and snacks, and embrace meat and other proteins as well as once-demonized fat.

These concepts also go against the classic teachings and lunchroom diagrams of U.S. Department of Agriculture’s nutritional guidelines. For years, we were taught to eat a steady diet of grains, breads and cereals.

Those of you who remember the Atkins craze of decades past know this is nothing new. What is novel is the widespread thought, especially among young people, that carbohydrates and sugar should be avoided. Consumers also agree that protein is king among healthy food. The survey asked consumers which food or nutrient groups are most beneficial overall for health goals like cardiovascular health, weight loss, energy promotion and overall health. Protein, closely followed by vegetables and fruits, was the top choice on all fronts.

Chicken, turkey and eggs are health food!

This report is evidence that consumers value protein more than other nutrients, they want to increase protein consumption and they perceive protein as a healthy choice. This is a wonderful opportunity for the poultry industry to promote itself as a health food and cement its status as a staple among younger, health-conscious consumers.

I previously noted how consumers may be unsure meat is healthy and that special interest groups are pushing plant-based protein as the healthy option in protein. Clever marketing efforts, novelty and fad diets may move some plant-based and alternative protein products, but poultry and eggs carry the significant advantage of low price, high availability and culinary versatility.

People in the developed world will continue fighting their waistlines and looking to mercurial fad diets and eating trends because weight loss is so challenging for so many. What won’t change is the prioritization of good tasting and affordable food. Chicken, turkey and eggs are both tasty and cheap as well as packed with protein. Now that’s something the industry can, and should, sell on.