Sick of oat bran, but worried about eating "healthy?"

Nancy Wellman, president of the American Dietetic Association in Chicago, says Americans want to believe they have entered the age of hyper-nutrition. However, she says, there no quick fixes - and no magic foods.A recent Gallup survey commissioned by the American Dietetic Association and the Food Information Council, a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., says 95 percent of Americans believe balance, variety and moderation are the keys to healthy eating.

"The poll shows Americans know about nutrition and health," Wellman said, "but when it comes to translating facts into food choices, most still opt for quick fixes and the latest health fads."

For example, 52 percent of adults reported increasing consumption of oat bran, and 48 percent said they were using more vitamin supplements.

Yet when asked if they were increasing anything else in their diet due to health concerns, only 8 percent reported eating more vegetables, and only 6 percent said they were consuming more fruits or fruit juices.

Results of the Gallup survey were announced at a press conference here. The survey results were based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 772 adults, 18 years of age and older.

Sixty-seven percent of the survey respondents said they believe there are "good" and "bad" foods.

Thomas Stenzel, executive director of the Food Information Council, says the perception of "good" and "bad" food leads consumers to "needlessly eliminate" foods they perceive as bad - including red meat and dairy products.

Wellman says red meat is a valuable source of iron; dairy foods are an important source of calcium.

"In searching for the `perfect' food, many people lose sight of the big picture," Wellman says. "What's important is the nutritional adequacy of the total diet over time, not whether individual foods are `good' or `bad' in terms of fat or other nutrients."

Dr. Margo Denke, a nutrition research scientist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, says that despite an awareness of basic nutrition principles, many consumers seem to view food as medicine.

"They think adding or eliminating a particular food or ingredient will automatically prevent or cure illness," she said. "Such an approach is not only unrealistic, it can also prove harmful."

Dr. Denke said that while nutrition research must examine the effects of nutrients individually, such studies should not be immediately translated into food choices.

The IFIC and the ADA have put together a consumer brochure, "10 Tips for Healthy Eating." It is available by sending a stamped, self-addressed, business-sized envelope to: 10 Tips, Box 1144, Rockville, MD 20850.