(USA TODAY) -- Americans may be finally getting with the nutrition program.
They're eating more fruit and yogurt and downing more bottled water instead of guzzling carbonated soft drinks and fruit juice, according to data out today from the NPD Group, a market research firm.
Fruit is now the second most popular food consumed in the U.S., up from No. 5 a decade ago, says Harry Balzer, NPD's chief industry analyst and author of the annual Eating Patterns in America report on food habits, now in its 28th year. The report is based on the eating and drinking habits of 5,000 people who maintain daily journals on all foods and beverages consumed by all household members for 14 consecutive days.
"We've been told to eat more fruit and vegetables, but we're not eating more vegetables," Balzer says. "We're eating more fruit because it's easy to consume.It generally requires very little preparation."
The most popular fruits in order: bananas, apples, oranges and grapes.
Fruit is increasing at the same rate that juice is decreasing, he says.
The top 10 foods eaten at home and away are: sandwiches, fruit, vegetables, carbonated soft drinks, milk, coffee, potatoes, salty snacks, fruit juice and cold cereal. "These foods account for 50% of the foods and beverages we eat and drink," he says.
The sandwich is still king. "It's self-contained," Balzer says, "It's the No. 1 food eaten at lunch; the No. 1 main dish at dinner (hamburgers and hot dogs are included), and it's the fastest-growing breakfast food."
Dawn Jackson Blatner, a registered dietitian in Chicago, says: "It's good news that we are eating more whole fruit since it has more fiber than its juice counterpart. Now I will get really excited about our health as a nation when veggie consumption increases since vegetables are low in calories and packed with nutrients."
Her suggestion: Since sandwiches are so popular, add vegetables to them, such as shredded carrots, cucumber, spinach, red onion and tomatoes. "It is an easy way to give us an extra dose of veggies."
The payoff from recent healthy eating: The obesity epidemic shows signs of leveling off in recent years, Balzer says.
Although people care about their health, he says, it's not the No. 1 factor influencing their food choices. The truth is, people are creatures of habit when it comes to what we eat. The greatest influence on what people eat is their current eating habits. After that, "it's really a tossup between cost and convenience - both are important," he says. "We like to try new versions of products we already know."