35% of consumers who have been altering their food intake to lose weight are eating fewer processed foods, according to a recent Nielsen Global Survey. This percentage has grown from 29% in 2008.

Health and wellness is one of three driving forces shaping food in 2012, according to JWT‘s What’s Cooking: Trends in Food. The other two forces, technology and foodie culture, combine with health/wellness and yield some interesting consumer trends in the milieu of food.

JWT’s top food issues to watch are:

– Fooducate
– Nutrition scores
– Fat taxes
– Health and fresh vending machines
– Gluten-free
– Hold the salt
– Inhaling
– Smart lunchrooms
– Organic fast food, and
– New-new functional foods.

In addition, JWT points out a growing population that’s “veering vegan/vegetarian,” quoting a 2010 report from the United Nations noting a global shift toward vegan diets. Furthermore, the concept of eating less and little or no meat — promulgated by Michael Pollan — is also gaining adherents.

Some specific tactics moving mainstream people toward this trend are meatless Monday’s adopted by schools and universities, as well as Mario Batali’s restaurants; and weekday vegetarianism.

Nutrition scores are getting popularized in grocery stores, such as Whole Foods using the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) and Safeway’s innovative SimpleNutrition program. Walmart recently announced its plan to label certain products “Great for you,” although the Chicago Tribune article linked points out these items represent a tiny fraction of the chain’s grocery shelf space.

Healthy and fresh vending machines have been proliferating more in Europe than in the U.S. In Spain, fresh milk machines allow people to refill their own bottles, and another machine in contains fresh fish portions.

New-new functional foods in 2012 include “artery-cleaning” foods that claim to reduce oxidized LDL cholesterol (see Stratum Nutrition’s powdered fiber product); mushrooms that can lower cholesterol; matcha, the green tea, high in antioxidants; and the opposite of the Red Bull phenomenon, “Slow” beverages, that calm and relax the consumer.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: When you’re next in the dairy section of your local supermarket, check out the growing shelf space given over to Greek-style yogurts. Once the purview of Fage and later, Chobani, you will now see versions from Dannon, Yoplait, and the grocer’s private label, all competing for the business of the healthy food shopper looking to the latest trend of food=health.

At the same time, though, there’s a counter-trend: many consumers are fatigued by the many healthy food messages they feel overwhelmed by, and so there’s also a move among some to “Live A Little.” 90% of American and British adults agreed that “an indulgent snack/meal every once in a while gives me a nice break from the day-to-day grind.” And 76% of U.S. and British adults agree that “there is so much pressure to have perfect nutrition habits that once in a while I need to indulge myself and take a break.”

Note, for example, the dessert trend in restaurants to sweet indulgences in small shot glasses featuring such calorific sweets as red velvet and carrot cake, apple and lemon meringue pie, and chocolate lava cakes. The consumer takes two hits with these little sweeties: first, the caloriic one; then, the high price margin the restaurant enjoys.

Still, JWT asserts that the ranks of the conscious consumer are growing. The challenge for companies marketing healthy gooods and services to health-ambivalent is to deliver clear, informative, engaging and persuasive messages.

The bottom-line stat here is that 62% of U.S. and British adults wish that they weren’t reminded of how they should keep a healthy diet to improve their lifestyle “every time I turn around.”