The International Food Information Council (IFIC) recently released its 2017 “Food & Health Survey: A Healthy Perspective: Understanding American Food Values” all about consumers’ beliefs and behaviors around food.
To “cut-to-the-chase,” consumers are confused! How confused are they? Here are some highlights:
- 4 in 5 admit finding conflicting information about food and nutrition.
- Over half say this confusion gives them doubts about their food choices (maybe agita, too?)
- 24 out of 25 people do seek out health benefits form the foods they choose, but less than half of those people could identify even one food or nutrient linked to those benefits!
Friends & Family: The New “Nutritionists”
More than 3 in 4 consumers actually rely on the people closest to them for at least some of their nutrition advice. They’re skeptical about it, though. About 7 in 10 don’t exactly have high trust in these folks for nutrition and food safety info. Friends and family mean well and don’t speak “nutrition-ese”, so they’re easy to listen to. Things change however, according to Tony Flood, senior director of food safety at IFIC, who noted, “For concerns such as foodborne illness and chemicals in food, news articles tend to be the top source to influence consumer opinion.”
Smart, because the “hallway advice” from friend and family, has a downside: inaccurate or incomplete information fuels food and nutrition myths. No one wants to make food decisions and purchases based on flawed assumptions. Here’s what the IFIC survey had to say about that:
- If a food costs $2, you are more likely to think it’s healthier than an IDENTICAL food that costs 99 cents.
- You’re four times as likely to think fresh food is healthier than frozen
- You’re five times as likely to think fresh is healthier than canned
Let’s at least clear some confusion about the above points:
- Higher price – for the exact same item – is no indication of healthfulness.
- Frozen can actually be higher in nutrients. Nowadays, frozen produce is quick frozen right on the field as it’s harvested. That helps it retain nutrients that can be lost during the time it takes for the fresh version to go from farm to store, to your refrigerator – where you may wait a few days to prepare and eat it.
- Canned foods vs. fresh? It depends. Canned garbanzo and kidney beans? Super nutritious. I always keep them around. Canned tomato paste is just condensed, concentrated tomatoes, and cooking tomatoes makes more of the antioxidant lycopene available. Two thumbs up. Canned fruit with lots of syrup? Fresh or frozen fruit is a better choice most of the time, and it does have more fiber. Of course, context is everything: a canned peach with some vanilla Greek yogurt will have way fewer calories and more protein than a slice of cheesecake.
Let’s Clear the Air
As a clinician of over 30 years, I try every which way to make certain that a patient in my office leaves with clarity, not confusion. Why? Because a confident patient/consumer is motivated to make positive changes! A confused consumer says, “no” and stays put. Exactly what I don’t want. Eating is more than just nutrition. It’s about enjoyment. If you’re confused or conflicted, where’s the fun?
Consumers said they trusted health professionals, especially registered dietitian/nutritionists (RDN), the most, even if they didn’t go to them as often as other sources. It might be worth it to have a chat with an RDN. It’ll help stop your confusion about food and get you more confident about the choices you make. As my colleague Carolyn O’Neil says, “The more you know, the more you can eat.”
Another way to clear the confusion? Sign up for my newsletter. That’s an easy, positive change right there.