American consumers want to eat healthier. Gainesville is joining the trend.

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Marina Portuondo, 20, said she prioritizes healthy living by eating clean foods and shopping locally.

Like Portuondo, the growing consciousness among American consumers for health and wellness has driven rapid changes in the food business that experts say are here to stay.

Health-oriented food includes fresh, natural, additive-free and sustainably produced food. Ninety-three percent of consumers reported that they want to eat healthy at least some of the time, according to a 2018 food and beverage survey. About 63% reported that they try to eat healthy most or all of the time.

Foods that boost health and wellness have staked their claim on the retail shelf. In addition, such foods have become upscale, representing a lifestyle focused on conscious consumption.

Portuondo, a University of Florida student, said she has visited Gainesville’s newest healthy food restaurant, Fresh Kitchen, located at 700 SW 62nd St., three times since its opening on March 22.

Marina Portuondo orders her bowl at Fresh Kitchen. She has visited the restaurant three times since its opening and loves the healthy options she can choose from.
(Jacqueline Macia/WUFT News)

Fresh Kitchen is part of a family-based restaurant chain called Ciccio Restaurant Group, which started about eight years ago in Tampa and recently expanded to its 11th location, in Gainesville.

Restaurant representatives said Fresh Kitchen’s goal is to provide a healthy dining experience that is accessible and convenient, Ryan Mitchell said. He’s the regional chief partner at Ciccio Restaurant Group and the vice president of culinary at Fresh Kitchen.

“It’s quick to get in and out with a high-quality, healthy meal,” he said. “All of our proteins are hormone-free, antibiotic-free and there are tons of options for healthy roasted vegetables.”

The staff’s priority, Mitchell said, is to purchase from vendors who use sustainable practices and focus on quality and execution.

For Portuondo, Fresh Kitchen is a great option because she adheres to a gluten-free diet and tries to eat from restaurants that promote sustainability.

“There aren’t many options for gluten-free people in Gainesville,” she said. “I try to eat as clean as possible, and restaurants like Fresh Kitchen make it so much easier because I can see the food and create my own meal.”

Bolay is another grab-and-go restaurant with healthier food options located at 2905 SW 42nd St.

Dan Risick, the restaurant’s operating partner and manager, said Bolay serves nutritious foods to encourage people to practice healthy living.

Bolay works with Performance Food Group and vendors like FreshPoint to get its produce and meats, Risick said. These companies emphasize sustainability, clean foods and helping communities.

Risick said he believes everyone should have the opportunity to eat well in a world that is becoming more fast-paced every day.

“Bolay is here to become an option for people who don’t have time to cook a nutritious meal at home but still want to eat well,” he said. “Everybody eats; they might as well eat something that’s good for them.”

Dana Schroeder, a Gainesville resident, said she visits Bolay because she likes to eat fresh food without additives and preservatives.

“I order kale salad, grilled broccoli, beans, teriyaki chicken and black rice,” Schroeder said. “I love the black rice because it has the lowest amount on the glycemic index, which means it has the least amount of sugar impact on your body.”

Consumers’ bar has been rising, said Nicole Trespalacios, a nationally board-certified functional medicine holistic health coach. People want to know more than whether a product is low-calorie or high fiber. She said businesses need to convey specific attributes in menus relative to health, wellness, ethics and the environment.

“More than ever before, consumers are willing to pay for food that delivers on its claims,” she said.

There are several benefits to healthy restaurants opening around the country, Trespalacios said. Restaurants that serve grass-fed and finished meats, less soy and additives and an array of colorful foods are essential.

“Each food and color have its own benefits and nutrients that optimize your well-being,” she said. “Red foods help the heart and the liver; orange foods help the skin and the eyes; yellow foods help with cognition and anti-inflammatory properties and green foods help the brain and hormone balance.”

However, Trespalacios said it is challenging for people to practice healthy living because they aren’t taught how to do so.

“We’re taught processed foods; grab a box of this, have some chips, instead of having an apple or making a meal,” she said. “Once people move away from sugar and processed foods, they feel better because it lightens up the whole energetic field in the brain.”

Food doesn’t only affect the brain and the heart, Trespalacios said. It affects one’s genetic disposition, too.

“Eating well, exercising, sweating every day, hydrating and positive self-talk and self-love can change your genetic disposition,” she said.

Consumers are demanding fresher foods because of growing awareness about the environment and the importance of healthy living, said Hannah Stahmer, a dietitian at the University of Florida Student Health Care Center.

“Right now, it is very trendy to have farm-to-table restaurants popping up everywhere, and the interest in supporting farmers appears to be growing,” Stahmer said.

Consumers appreciate when restaurants promote more sustainable options and supply food from local farmers and companies, she said.

“People like to promote their community and are proud when the honey served with their pancakes came from local bees,” she said.

The benefits of healthy living and healthier food options are positive for everyone, Stahmer said. It is good for farmers and fishermen, to decrease the carbon footprint and to eat food that hasn’t been stored and transported from somewhere far away, Stahmer said.

“We should all be worried about the environment,” she said. “Promoting farmer’s markets and eating local food is a tasty way to do your part.”

About Jacqueline Macia

Jacqueline is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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