Incredible Breakfast Trends

The Cultural Evolution of Health

For decades, doctors, government organizations and public health watchdogs warned Americans about the complications of obesity, sedentary lifestyles and diets consisting of junk food. By and large, we ignored them.

In the 1990s, a heart symbol was used to identify heart-healthy menu items high in fiber or lower in cholesterol or calories. But we didn’t order them. In 1995, the American Heart Association introduced the “heart-check” symbol identifying packaged foods that met defined criteria. We weren’t persuaded.

But change is afoot. From a cultural evolutionary standpoint, it’s been relatively sudden. One influence was Baby Boomers reaching their 60’s and reacting to the attendant pains and energy loss: “I haven’t got time for this – I’m busy – how can I fix this aging thing?”

One surprising factor is rooted in American business. A 2015 survey of 443 human resources professionals showed that 85 percent believe wellness programs improve employee health, and 73 percent feel they improve work productivity. So now consumers have big business providing mentors, cheerleaders and incentives to improve their well-being.

Setting the stage for all this was the cumulative effect of the 1960s counterculture lifestyle, the health and wellness movement in the 1970s and 1980s, and the recent cultural shift away from reacting to health problems in favor of proactively increasing quality of life.

As the stars fell into alignment, consumers began to look at their food differently.

The phrase “healthy food” means different things to different people. Some use food as a preventative health regimen, while others merely want to avoid sugar. There are those seeking high-fiber, gluten-free or high-protein meals free of meat. Dieters’ needs range from low calorie to high protein. And food manufacturers and foodservice operators are left to figure out how to satisfy widely diverse requirements.

Breakfast is a great platform to offer many options for virtually any definition of “healthy,” and restaurants are taking advantage of this based on their adoption and creativity. Eggs can take healthy breakfasts in many delicious directions in the form of breakfast burritos, omelets, Benedicts, frittatas and sandwiches. Adding any mix of vegetables, cheeses, herbs, salsas, poultry products, tofu or seitan can produce low calorie, gluten-free, vegetarian or energy-rich high protein dishes. Major chain efforts defined by better-for-you (BFY) standards include McDonald’s Egg White Delight, Dunkin’ Donuts’ DDSMART® menu and Subway’s BFY focus.

For those who make breakfast at home, manufacturers of convenience breakfast foods provide a range of consumer nutrition needs. A small sampling finds Jimmy Dean Delights’ Honey Wheat Flatbread: Egg White with Spinach & Mozzarella-Style Cheese having only 160 calories, while Morning Star Farms’ Breakfast Sandwich: Veggie Scramble with Cheese goes even lower, with 140. Boasting 21 grams of protein with no gluten, Aldi’s Meat Lovers Breakfast Bowl is made with eggs, sausage, bacon, potatoes and Cheddar. The vegetarian Baja Breakfast Burrito from Sweet Earth Natural Foods is made with eggs, pinto beans, chipotle seitan, green chilies, and Jack and Cheddar, with 20 grams of protein, 340 calories and USDA certified organic.

According to Sloan Trends data, 53 percent of adults are watching what they eat, and what they’re watching are nutrients. Rather than counting calories consumers look for the calories they eat to be packed with nutrition.

“This marks a shift from previous generations,” says Annika Stensson, senior manager of research communications at the National Restaurant Association. “Today's consumers are looking for healthier options.”

Simple ways to increase nutrient density include topping legumes, grains or salads with poached eggs for high-protein, vegetarian center-of-the-plate items; adding quinoa, faro or bulgur wheat and a soft cooked egg to salads or entrees to increase texture, protein, vitamins and minerals; and reducing sodium by using bold spices and herbs.

Twenty years ago, a small heart shown next to a menu item was often the kiss of death. Generally, heart-healthy items were versions of popular items scaled back in calories and fat, and also in taste and craveability. Today the search for nutrients is part of the move toward food-based health and wellness. The attention being given to nutrition-heavy menu items, like eggs, is a response to consumer requirements for creative and healthy food, delivered in the way the consumer expects it: vibrant and delicious.


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