Phytochemicals and the Consumer: Factors Affecting Fruit and Vegetable Consumption and the Potential for Increasing Small Fruit in the Diet

in HortTechnology
Joseph C. ScheerensDepartment of Horticulture and Crop Science, The Ohio State University, The Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, 1680 Madison Ave., Wooster, OH 44691.

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Increasing fruit and vegetable consumption reduces risk factors for cancer, cardiovascular disease and a number of other diet-related chronic diseases. These foodstuffs contain relatively high levels of beneficial phytochemicals (plant-derived, biologically active compounds) among which the preventative activity of antioxidants are most well-known and well-documented. Since small fruit typically contain high levels of antioxidants, increasing their incorporation in the diet is a laudable goal. Media reports of medical studies pertaining to dietary intake and national education initiatives such as the USDA's Food Guide Pyramid and the 5 A Day—for Better Health program have successfully raised public awareness of the health benefits of increased fruit and vegetable consumption, but, as of yet, may not have altered dietary habits. The factors influencing food choice are complex and interrelated. They include: sensory preference, physiological factors (pre- and postingestion), age, gender, lifestyle, behavior, personality, education, income, social attitudes about diet and health, ethnicity and tradition, religious beliefs, social pressures, marketing pressures, available product information and knowledge (labeling, media coverage, etc.) or self-identity beliefs. Some of these factors offer opportunities for increasing fruit and vegetable consumption while others present challenges. With respect to small fruit, food choice factors that tend to increase consumption include public awareness of these products as being beneficial to health and longevity and their image as highly desirable, dessert-like commodities with exquisite flavors. The main factors that deter increased small fruit consumption include their relatively high price per serving and their relative perishability which affects cost, ease of transport and availability. Strategies to capitalize on small fruits' positive attributes and overcome negative attributes with respect to food choice include the application of innovative marketing strategies at all levels and the expansion of research efforts to optimize the health benefits and sensory quality of these products.

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