Turns Out, When We’re Eating Healthy We Don’t Actually Eat Like Our Grandparents

Turns Out, When We're Eating Healthy We Don't Actually Eat Like Our Grandparents

Food trends of late have highlighted the importance of eating a bit more like our grandparents, at least when our goal is eating healthy. 

Even Michael Pollan is on the record as saying, “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” But it turns out, millennials don’t actually eat healthy the way their grandparents do, at least not if their grandparents are baby boomers.

A new survey from the International Food Information Council Foundation compared perceptions of healthfulness along generational lines and showed some blatant differences between the way baby boomers and millennials approach healthy eating.

First off, boomers and millennials aren’t even looking for the same things when they define a food as “healthy.” Whereas boomers are keeping an eye out for foods that help manage weight, cardiovascular health, and digestive health, millennials seek out superfoods with specific benefits, such as foods that improve mental health, augment muscle health, and boost immunity.

Millennials and boomers also look to different professionals for advice when their goal is eating healthy. Boomers are far more likely to rely on registered dietitians, nutritionists, and healthcare professionals than millennials, who seek out fitness professionals, farmers, and bloggers for much of their healthy eating advice.

But perhaps the biggest difference the survey found was the specific strategies that each individual group used for assessing whether their diets were healthy or not — boomers appear to take on a quantitative definition, reducing portion sizes or eliminating carbs, sugars, and sodium to eat healthier. Millennials, on the other hand, define healthy eating less by what they don’t eat and more by what they do.

The term “superfood” only emerged around fifteen years ago, according to the Wall Street Journal, and millennials make many of their dietary choices by seeking out these nutrient-rich foods, rather than cutting out specific food groups. Millennials are also far more tapped into not only what a food is, but how it is produced: a 2012 article in Forbes highlighted artisanal, small batch, and specialty products as keys to a millennial heart — and stomach.

Organic is yet another label that millennials love, according to another recent survey, this time from the Organic Trade Association, Food Business News reports. This survey showed that an overwhelming 52 percent of organic shoppers are millennials with children, as opposed to a mere 14 percent of boomers who shop with the organic label in mind.

But according to Laura Batcha, CEO and executive director of the Washington-based Organic Trade Association, this choice actually has everything to do with millennials’ Gen X parents.

“Many (millennials) were raised on organic products,” she says. “It’s not a new idea they’re embracing; it’s just something that’s incorporated into their way of thinking.”

Add the familiarity of the organic label to the desire to shop healthfully, ecologically, and sustainably that seems to pervade the millennial sensibility, and it’s no surprise that millennials are eating differently than their grandparents. And what’s more, as millennials begin to acquire the power of purchase that baby boomers are slowly giving up, this distinction is going to continue to change the way the rest of us shop and eat, too.

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Couple shopping at market image via Shutterstock

Emily Monaco

Emily Monaco is an American food and culture writer based in Paris. She loves uncovering the stories behind ingredients and exposing the face of our food system, so that consumers can make educated choices. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Vice Munchies, and Serious Eats.