Healthy Dining works to inspire chefs to create healthier options for consumers and help diners find meals that fit into a healthy lifestyle. Last fall, the initiative’s dining and nutrition guide, HealthyDiningFinder.com, launched a mobile site featuring 4,000 menu items served at more than 60,000 participating restaurants to make it even easier for consumers to find healthy options on the go. I interviewed Healthy Dining’s founder Anita Jones-Mueller about how technology is impacting the restaurant industry and inspiring more consumers to turn to mobile devices for help maintaining a healthy diet.
How is technology impacting nutrition and how is that affecting the restaurant industry?
It is an exciting time of change in terms of technology and nutrition and overall in how our nation is accelerating change as it relates to how we eat. And I believe that restaurants will be a driving force in that accelerated change.
One of the biggest changes I see is the impact that mobile health technologies will have on our future and especially on the way we live and eat. Health care will completely change in the next decade. For instance, in the coming years doctors will no longer default to drugs until surgery is required for those with high blood pressure or diabetes. Instead, they will prescribe healthy eating and exercise — tracked on your phone — as the cure.
And that’s where restaurants come in. The more that restaurants create cuisine that nourishes and fuels our bodies, the more they will be part of the changing landscape of how we eat for prevention and prescription of health problems, as well as contributing to a healthier America and helping us all to be at our best and raise healthier kids to be at their best.
And a lot of restaurants are doing just that! Healthy Dining’s dietitians are working with scores of restaurants to analyze and understand where their menu is now and the strategy for where the menu should evolve. That doesn’t mean a radical shift now; instead it means getting ready for, and evolving with, the acceleration that is already happening. There is a lot of innovation and momentum in the restaurant industry as it relates to healthier eating and a healthier future.
How is technology helping consumers make healthy dining choices while on the go?
The mobile version of HealthyDiningFinder.com makes it easy for consumers to find Healthy Dining choices and corresponding nutrition information while on-the-go. Close to 50% of our users access the information via mobile. Our mobile site has a user experience similar to an app, but apps can be limiting, so we are in the midst of transitioning to an exciting responsive site design. That will allow us to share a wider variety of media content as well as customized searches, such as heart healthy, diabetes friendly and even a personalized platform where users can set their own criteria and preferences. We are also working on being able to help those with food allergies, gluten sensitivity and celiac disease find restaurants and menu choices that meet their specific needs. All of this will tie back to the growing mobile health platforms emphasizing nutrition for healthier lifestyles and disease prevention and prescription.
Mobile health and tracking technologies are growing rapidly, and I believe these have great potential to further fuel consumer desire for healthier eating. According to a 2014 study, 25% of smartphone owners and 22% of tablet owners used their mobile device to track their health, diet, or exercise. Quantified self technologies are growing, too, as they help track personal data like sleeping habits, exercise activity and fitness goals through diagnostic microsensors on wearables. More than 17 million wearables will be shipped this year, growing to a projected 45 million by 2017. That is a lot of people who are becoming very aware of their daily lifestyle habits! Some of these wearables are starting to interface with food tracking apps. At this point, though, it is pretty much impossible to accurately track food intake. We are working on some disruptive technologies that will provide accurate tracking based on intake of foods, even those not included in the USDA foods database. This will be a huge step forward in accurate food tracking and help spur a heightened awareness of the nutritional quality of the foods.
So all of these newer health technologies are adding up to a changing mindset about how we look at eating. And this is where restaurants can be a driving force. We call it “intelligent eating,” and we see that Healthy Dining and our restaurant partners are leading this intelligent eating movement.
What are some of the top reasons beyond counting calories that people will turn to technology to help them make healthy food choices?
Yes, consumers are increasingly becoming focused on the quality or nutritional value of the calories they are consuming. They are asking, “For my meal of 600 calories, how many high quality nutrients can I get? How much lean protein? How about omega-3s? How many types of fruits and vegetables are served to add a power packed nutrients? How about whole grains?” And more consumers are aware of, and want to avoid, saturated fat, sodium, added sugars, preservatives and additives. More people have food preferences such as vegan or vegetarian, gluten-free, organic, locally sourced and no GMOs.
A whole culture of change is in the works. And this is changing how we are — and how we will — eat. More and more, we will look at food as the fuel for being at our best. We will look for foods that provide vitality and strength. We will value food for its role in raising healthy kids. Workplaces will value food to help employees be at their best. And all of that helps us to build a healthier nation and healthier future generations. And restaurants’ chefs and culinary departments will play an important role as they help to shape the future with their creativity and artistry.
Any and all restaurants can be a part of this change in eating. And Healthy Dining’s team of expert culinary dietitians love to help, whether it’s a restaurant taking a leading role in all of this or a restaurant that wants to evolve more slowly. Either way, restaurants can play an important role in the prevention and prescription of a healthier America.