Irish people buying more immunity boosting foods than ever before
Pricewatch: Report finds people care more about where food comes from and how it gets to their table
The report suggests that as well as looking for foods which boost immunity, people have started to care more about where their food comes from and how it gets to their table. Photograph: Getty Images.
People have been eating as if their lives depend on it over the last 12 months with foods that boost the immune system now found in Irish fridges and presses in larger quantities than ever before as we seek to give ourselves an edge over Covid, according to a piece of research published on Monday.
The report from Bord Bia sets itself the challenge to find out how our eating habits - and the eating habits of those in other countries around the world - have shifted since it carried out a piece of similar research in 2018.
It suggests that as well as looking for foods which boost immunity, people have started to care more about where their food comes from and how it gets to their table.
While the State-sponsored food body’s Global Dietary Lifestyles Research points to a dramatic increase in the number of vegetarians in Ireland and the increasing popularity of veganism in recent years, the numbers who claim to have a foot in either camp may not be as large as it seems .
The report also suggests that there are significant numbers who believe veganism is not the healthiest diet option on the table.
It is an update on a 2018 study and “designed to understand how dietary lifestyles have evolved to enable food and drink companies understand how people are approaching their diets, the dynamics at play, looking in particular at relationships with protein and alternative proteins.”
While it was done with business in mind there are interesting nuggets to be mined from it for the rest of us.
Top line findings suggest that although 30 per cent of those polled say they want to follow or be associated with a particular diet - including vegetarianism, veganism and flexitarianism - that doesn’t always translate into actual behaviour with many failing to live up to challenges they set themselves.
“The interesting thing is that the conversation about how we approach food is changing and diversity on the plate is what people are aspiring to more because it is easier and they recognise that they want a balanced diet,” says Bord Bia’s Grace Binchy.
She points out that the research also highlights “a trend showing the all or nothing regime has fallen off a little bit and it is less about striving for perfection and a realisation that it is okay to do our best. If it is all or nothing it tends to be nothing.
“All the stats in this report align with what we see in other studies and there is a clear desire among many people to do better for the planet and for their health. But it doesn’t always translate as life gets in the way,” Binchy says. She notes that the social dynamic “has evolved and there is less virtue signalling and tension about diet than three years ago.”
She says the research illustrates that Covid has been “taking its toll and with fitness and body image scoring negatively and people saying they feel more sluggish in terms of their health. That is unsurprising because so many people do not have regular fitness routines or access to gyms that they once had.”
All told 55 per cent of those polled say they now try to follow a balanced diet but don’t stick to any particular regime while 19 per cent say they adhere to a flexitarian diet.
That basically means they make a conscious decision to eat less meat with the numbers who associate with flexitarianism standing at 24 per cent last November compared to 14 per cent in 2018. Taste and enjoyment of food is a big factor for Flexitarians in particular, and any switch to meat replacements leads to concerns about taste and texture.
All told 9 per cent of those who took part in the study said they follow a vegetarian diet while 17 per cent associate themselves mainly with a vegetarian diet compared with 9 per cent in 2018.
Just 2 per cent of people adhere to a vegan diet although 14 per cent associate themselves with it compared with 5 per cent in 2018. “People want to follow this diet and maybe think they are eating a certain way but they are actually eating other foods too,” Binchy says.
In the research Bord Bia identifies “five pillars driving dietary lifestyles” with wellness and sustainability increasingly to the fore and joined by a desire to keep Covid at bay.
The first pillar is health which has seen consumers emphasise physical and mental health when traipsing around the supermarket. After that is back to basics, which sees people display a keener interest on natural products and shorter ingredient lists. Then there is the environment with shoppers focusing more on local produce, the use of plastics, the carbon footprint of the food they eat and animal welfare.
The fourth pillar is Covid which has seen health concerns and food’s immunity boosting properties come to the fore like never before. The fifth and final pillar points to increased inclusivity and a move away from ‘us versus them’ when it comes to diets and food choices.
The report makes it clear that Covid-19 has accentuated the desire for ‘protective health’ - with 31 per cent of those polled taking vitamins and minerals at least once a day with a view to boosting their immunity.
A further 47 per cent of consumers said ethically and sustainably sourced ingredients were more important to them than before the pandemic while 27 per cent said they would be willing to pay more for food that was sustainably produced.
People have started consuming fruit and vegetables in far greater numbers in the last 12 months, according to the report, with 95 per cent of those surveyed saying they consumed vegetables weekly or more often than that, a jump of 30 per cent in the last year while 90 per cent said they consume fruit weekly or more often that, an increase of 27 per cent in the last 12 months
The study also shows an increase in dairy consumption with milk consumption climbing by 8 per cent, cheese jumping by 6 per cent and the amount of yoghurt eaten climbing by 10 per cent. There has also been an increased consumption in non-dairy alternatives.
All told 62 per cent of consumers have purchased a ‘free-from/alternative protein’ product in the last year while 67 per cent of those who have ever purchased free from/alt proteins purchase a free from product regularly with 25 per cent regularly buying meat free and 23 per cent buying non-dairy.
Convenience remains a significant challenge to following a specific dietary lifestyle, with 47 per cent of those polled saying that ease of meal preparation was a challenge after initially committing to a diet/food lifestyle.
Accessing food which delivers the right nutrients (iron, B12, fats, carbs and proteins) is also a hurdle, while some consumers question the health credentials of a vegan diet. This is the main barrier among those who would not consider following a vegan diet with 29 per cent of people saying they did believe it is not a healthy balanced diet.