Last year my cholesterol level rose above the 200 mark for the first time in my life. And this wasn’t a blip –it had been on the rise for several years in a row. Other family members have been dealing with high cholesterol their whole lives and take prescription medicine to keep it under control. My doctor didn’t medicate me since my good to bad cholesterol ratio was still healthy but as someone who studies trends for a living I saw where this was heading. Therefore, I decided to take matters into my own hands and made changes to my diet.

Apparently I’m not alone in this movement to treat food intake as a means to better one’s health. Our National Eating Trends® Health & Wellness Service shows about a quarter of adults are trying to manage a health or medical condition through their food and beverage choices. Younger adults are expressing these desires in greater numbers as well. For example, when asking about foods that promote brain health, adults ages 18-24 are 45 percent more likely to express an interest these products compared to 35- 44-year-olds.

This signals a dramatic shift from decades ago when the typical U.S. consumer was more reactionary when it came to health needs and typically changed behaviors after an illness threatened the individual’s well-being.

The extent of the proactive health movement is far reaching and has created new standards for the food and beverage industry. More consumers are checking labels for preservatives and now more than half of adults try to avoid them. We also see strong growth in non-GMO and organic products since these are viewed as healthier by consumers. My job takes me to many trade shows across the nation and I’ve noticed free-from labels such as GMOs or gluten, as well as ingredient callouts such as protein, which  now are the cost of entry for new products if they want to have a shot at getting noticed.

We should be careful to say that many of these behaviors haven’t been scientifically proven to improve one’s health but the message to the food and beverage industry is clear – your consumers expect you to do more than just fill their stomachs. Whether it’s a superfood rich in nutrients or something your product lacks, ensure the callout exists on how it can help consumers maintain their health for the long term.

By the way after six months of altering my food intake, my cholesterol dropped to 150. My choices might not work for everyone but since it did for me I can take proactive steps to manage my cholesterol.