By: Dr. Keith Kantor
Millennials are a unique part of the population defined by events and characteristics that set them apart from any other generation. When it comes to health and nutrition, the theme remains the same.
Millennials are optimistic about the future of food, they look to their friends and family for support, they use technology as a tool to reach their health goals, and they have shifting attitudes about the value of certain nutrients.” Yes, there is still a population out there that will live on processed snacks and fast food, there always has been, but as a whole this generation is morphing into a more savvy and educated group when it comes to nutrition.
According to the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation’s 2015 Food and Health Survey, compared to the general U.S. population, Millennials (18- to 34-year-old respondents) have differing opinions on traditional healthful habits, usage of resources and information for staying healthy, and even on the value of some nutrients.
Overcoming Obstacles to a Healthful Lifestyle
Like anyone, some of the Millennials admit to having the same barriers to success as the rest of us do, including lack of time and stress from work, resulting in their inability to lose or maintain weight. Millennials have non – traditional coping mechanisms.
- More Millennials (16 percent) attribute having a workout buddy as contributing to success in maintaining/losing weight compared to 10 percent of the general population.
- Given extra time and money, Millennials would use those resources on health and fitness endeavors.
- 70 percent of Millennials state that they have cut calories by drinking water, or low- and no-calorie beverages (coffee).
Where are Millennials getting their information?
In addition to different perceived barriers to better health, Millennials are more likely to seek alternative sources for trusted food information. Although most Millennials have reported that they trust their personal healthcare professional to provide accurate information about the foods they should be eating, more Millennials than other age groups are trusting additional information sources. Some experts believe that this generation has been exposed to more information about traditional health care professionals not being as honest as we once believed that they were.
There are several documentaries that have been released about the unhealthy farming practices from herbicides, genetically modified organisms (GMO), and food additives that are related to major health issues like Type 2 Diabetes, Autism and increased risk for developing certain cancers.
- More Millennials (33 percent vs. 24 percent of the general population) trust health, food, and nutrition bloggers as sources of food information.
Millennials are using technology
Beyond turning to alternative sources for trusted information, Millennials are improving their diets in different ways including popular apps and other digital resources to improve their diets.
- Thirty-six percent of Millennials are using an app or other means to track daily food and beverage intake, compared to 22 percent of the population.
- Twice as many Millennials (12 percent) are using an online support group, blog, or other online community, compared to the general population (6 percent).
Shifting Attitudes on the Value of Nutrients
Millennials also have different opinions about nutrition. When asked specifically about calorie sources and weight gain, only 20 percent of Millennials state that all sources of calories have the same effect on weight gain, compared to 27 percent of the general population. They are also less focused on limiting or avoiding calories than the general population. We find this encouraging; macronutrients have a major influence on hormones including those hormones like insulin, which can contribute to weight gain if it is high. The counting calories mentality is wrong, it is more about the quality and blend of nutrients that will promote health and optimal weight.
Like the general population, Millennials are more concerned about the amount and type of sugars they eat than they are about the type or amount of carbohydrates consumed. Within the Millennial demographic, women and those with higher household incomes are the most concerned.
Millennials also agree with the general population that moderate sugar intake can be a part of a healthful diet and believe that there are differences between the healthfulness of naturally occurring and other types of sugars.
When it comes to dietary fat, Millennials realize the healthfulness of omega fatty acids but do not fully understand the differences between different types of fats.
It is encouraging that this generation is eager to learn about how to eat well and they are more likely to be flexible and consume treats in moderation.
For millennials, eating is an experience, and this young generation craves something innovative and unique — think food trucks, wine and cheese pairings, food delivery options and online dinner planning programs.
Millennials also are reshaping food culture by opting for snacks over the traditional three meals per day. According to a 2015 Euromonitor analysis, they snack significantly more than any other generation with an average of 3.05 snacks consumed per day compared with 2.26 snacks consumed daily by Generation X, 1.53 by baby boomers, and 1 by adults older than 63 years.
Not only are millennials snacking more, they are demanding gourmet snacks with an expanded variety of flavors and ingredients. Snack cakes and fried snacks are being replaced with organic dark chocolate pistachio clusters and baked black bean chips from the local farmers market. Millennials want healthier snack options and are more likely to read nutrition labels before making a purchase. They are choosing fresh, unprocessed snacks, lower in calories, hydrogenated oils and salt.
All healthy snacks are not created equal, choosing an item with a small ingredient list is the key to avoiding harmful processed ingredients.
Here are some common snacks that this generation enjoys.
- Chopped vegetables with hummus
- Berries and granola with Greek yogurt
- Fresh pear slices served with brie cheese
- Dried mango and apricot chocolate chunks
- Rice cake with almond butter and honey
- Balsamic vinegar, sliced tomatoes with mozzarella cheese slices
- Sprouted-grain toast with avocado and egg
- Green apple slices spread with almond butter and sprinkled with sea salt
- Blueberries paired with spicy pumpkin seeds
This generation’s influence may transform the future of food landscape for all of us. While Millennials prefer less expensive food and they want it to be convenient, they’re willing to pay more for fresh, healthy food. This generation is also more aligned with key food movements, including organic agriculture and small-batch artisanal cuisine. They entertain the local and farm to table way of eating.
According to the report, Millennials are less loyal to specific brands, and they shop for food in ways that are different from Baby Boomers: They purchase online and shop at multiple venues rather than purchasing everything at traditional “one-stop-shop” supermarkets. They also seek out specialty foods, including ethnic, organic, and natural products, and are willing to pay more for the foods they value.
As this group’s purchasing power grows and they raise their children to eat this way, their preferences are likely to influence food availability in ways that could benefit us all nutritionally (e.g. fewer highly processed foods with artificial additives and long shelf lives, and more fresh options). We’ve already seen a shift in the structure of grocery stores, likely from the influence of Generation X (born 1965 to 1981), including more fresh, ready-to-eat options. Another recent report from the University of Michigan found that compared to the generation before them, GenXers cook at home more often, talk to friends about food, and watch food shows on TV about four times a month. Also, about half of Xers say they prefer to buy organic foods at least some of the time.
The food politics with conventional farming is not fooling the Millennials; they are educated about food production and farming methods from popular investigative documentaries and social media news. They are willing to pay more and invest more time in shopping for quality foods to have piece of mind that these foods are better for their overall health and the health of their family.