Survey: Americans Simply Don’t Know What Constitutes a “Healthy” Food

Do you know which foods are “healthy?” If you said no, or you only have a vague idea, then you have something in common with the majority of people who responded to a recent survey by the International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC). [1]

Approximately 8 in 10 respondents to the IFIC’s annual Food and Health Survey said they have conflicting information when it comes to foods that are healthy to eat and those that should be avoided. More than half of those surveyed said the lack of clear information makes them second-guess their food choices.

Some foods are obviously unhealthy, such as fast food and junk food. But beyond that, things get a little fuzzy.

Liz Sanders, director of research and partnerships at the foundation and a co-author of the survey, said:

“I wasn’t that surprised to see that 78% reported that they encountered conflicting information, but our follow-up question to that had, I think, a really interesting data point in it, and that was that about half — so around 56% — say that this conflicting information causes them to doubt the choices that they’re making.

I think that shows that for at least half of our respondents, this conflicting information was leading to some doubt that made it harder to sort through all the conflicting information. Americans rely on many different sources for their information when it comes to what foods to eat and what foods to avoid. Not all of these sources are really highly trusted, and it is likely that these sources share inconsistent information.” [2]

Americans’ Idea of “Healthy”

IFIC surveyed 1,002 American adults online in March 2017. Here’s how respondents answered when asked how they defined healthy food. [3]

  • High in healthy components or nutrients – nearly 60%
  • Free from artificial ingredients, preservatives, or additives – slightly over 50%
  • Part of an important food group that I need to build a healthy eating style – nearly 50%

About 35% of the respondents said that they considered healthy food to be “natural,” and almost 40% considered it to be “low in unhealthy components.” But strangely, in view of the toxic pesticides used on most GMO foods but not on organic ones, less than 20% of the respondents defined non-GMO foods or organic foods as healthy. [3]

Read: Organic Food More Nutritionally Rich than Conventional, GMO Crops

While most survey-takers knew that vitamin D, fiber, whole grains, plant proteins, omega-3 fatty acids, and probiotics are healthy, a significant portion of respondents said they considered unsaturated fats, enriched refined grains, animal protein, fortified foods, EPA/DHA, and saturated fats “neither healthy nor unhealthy.”

Many of the individuals whom IFIC surveyed mistakenly believed that if food is more expensive, it must be healthier. For example, more people were inclined to believe that a $2 food product was healthier than a $0.99 product. You know the old saying, “You get what you pay for.” Well, a lot of times, that rings true; but a lot of times, it doesn’t. Stores like Aldi, where you can get organic, preservative- and additive-free food for far less than you would in a traditional supermarket, is a perfect example.

When it came to fresh food vs. frozen food, the vast majority of respondents said that fresh was healthier than frozen. So, is that correct? Most nutritionists and health experts maintain that fresh is just as good as frozen.

However, when it comes to produce, the longer fruits and vegetables stay in your freezer, the more their nutritional value degrades. So, as long as you don’t leave frozen carrots in the freezer for two years, you’ll get the same nutrition from them as you would from carrots freshly plucked from the ground.


Most of those who took the survey said that they defined a healthy eating style as the right mix of food groups, and limited or no artificial ingredients or preservatives.

Compared with the 2016 Food and Health Survey, fewer people defined a healthy eating style as consuming only natural, organic, or non-GMO foods. However, 3 in 4 respondents said they seek non-GMO labels because they view them as more nutritious, safer, and better for the environment.

The MyPlate graphic shows the USDA’s recommended balance of foods you should have each day. The image depicts how much of each food group – fruits, grains, protein, vegetables, and dairy – you should incorporate into your diet. It’s the revamped version of the famed food pyramid that many of us grew up with. In 2017, more people were familiar with the MyPlate graphic than in 2016, but a solid 50% of respondents said that they’d never seen it before.

One significant and highly positive change was respondents’ opinion of sugar. Compared with last year’s survey, respondents’ view of sugar was 32% more negative. People are finally coming to view sugar as the poison that it is.

Read: What Happens When You Give Up Sugar for an Entire Year?

The FDA’s Definition of “Healthy”

In 2016, the FDA launched a public process to redefine what “healthy” means when the word is used on nutritional labels. According to the agency,

“For a food product to be marketed as healthy, it should have low levels of total and saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol, and have at least 10% of the daily requirements for vitamins, fiber and other nutrients.” [2]

Dr. Roxanne Sukol, preventive medicine specialist at the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic, who was not involved in the survey, said:

“The big problem is that we’ve been told that we can nourish ourselves with these ultraprocessed foods, and we cannot. They don’t nourish us. That’s why I believe that obesity is (at least in part) a malnourished state, as opposed to the standard message being propagated in our society, which is that obesity is an overindulged state. But if that were true, then diets would work.” [2]

But if you let your brain be your compass, it will never steer you wrong, Sukol said. She used the example of eating a giant bag of candy at the movies. You could probably still go out for dinner later and have a big appetite.

“But if they sold roasted Brussels sprouts and grilled salmon at the movie theater, you wouldn’t go out for dinner afterwards, because you would be satisfied. Your brain knows the difference. If there’s a conflict between what we think we know and what our brain is telling us. We don’t trust our brain. We trust what we think we learned. So I’m not surprised at all that everyone is confused.” [2]


[1] The Washington Post

[2] CNN

[3] International Food Information Council Foundation Food and Health Survey


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Food Industry Study Slams Recommended Sugar Intake Limits

A study made headlines after stating that there is no way of knowing just how much sugar consumption is too much, and the methods used to create dietary sugar intake limits are flawed.

CNN’s headline reads: “How much sugar is OK? Paper adds to debate.” Hmm, not really. The study was funded by the North American branch of the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), a nonprofit with ties to Hershey’s, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, McDonald’s, Mars, and Kraft Foods. [1]

There’s not much of a debate when the companies funneling money into research make soda, candy, and processed foods.

The Claims

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend that people consume no more than 10% of their daily calories from sugar. It’s much easier to consume that amount than you might think. Drinking just 1 can of soda can put you over the recommended limit. So it’s not surprising that Coca-Cola – yet again – has its tentacles in a study hinting that you might be able to consume even more of the sweet stuff.

Study author Bradley Johnston, a clinical epidemiologist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, says those recommendations “are not trustworthy.”

Johnston reviewed the studies and methodology used to create the guidelines. He doesn’t disagree that people should limit their sugar intake, but he says there is no solid answer to the question: “How much is too much?”

Johnston says:

“Sugar should certainly be limited in the diets of children and adults, no question.”

The epidemiologist argues that there is no convincing evidence to support cutting sugar intake to 10%, or even 5%.

He explains:

“There’s a lot of uncertainty about the thresholds that appear in guidelines. What’s happening is that guideline panelists are making strong recommendations based on low-quality evidence.”

Source: McMaster University Daily News – Bradley Johnston

The paper reviewed 9 sugar-intake guidelines from around the world, including the WHO’s guideline and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which were updated in 2016.

Furthermore, Johnston argues, current guidelines on dietary sugar do not adhere to standards set by the American non-governmental organization Institute of Medicine in 2011.

He says:

“Although our findings question the specific sugar recommendations from guidelines produced by leading authorities, the findings should not be used to justify high or increased consumption of sugary foods and beverages.

… results from our review should be used to promote improvement in the development of trustworthy guidelines on sugar intake.” [2]

What in the Hell is Going on Here?

Johnston and his colleagues seem to have arrived at some relatively benign conclusions. They don’t recommend that people start eating more sugar. They don’t even really suggest that eating more sugar might be safe.

So what in the hell is going on here?

If there is one thing the 2016 political season taught us, it’s that planting even the smallest doubt in people’s minds can have an overwhelming effect. That is what’s going on here.

The likes of Hershey’s, Coca-Cola, and Kraft are trying to plant doubts in people’s minds. And why wouldn’t they? It’s good for business. Inevitably, at least a few people will have that extra piece of chocolate, that extra glob of mac ‘n’ cheese, or 1 more can of soda because, after all, no one is sure how much sugar is bad for you.

Source: Business Insider

There will be people who get duped, but Johnston’s conclusions haven’t duped many scientists. They see what’s going on here, and they’re calling him out on it.

Read: PepsiCo Sued for Allegedly Misleading Buyers of Sugar-Laden Naked Juice

Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University who was written extensively about the soda industry, says:

“This is a classic example of industry-funded research aimed at one purpose and one purpose only: to cast doubt on the science linking diets high in sugars to poor health. This paper is shameful.” [1]

Dr. Dean Schillinger, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco who wrote an editorial accompanying the study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, says:

“In essence, this study suggests that placing limits on ‘junk food’ is based on ‘junk science.’ Studies are more likely to conclude there is no relationship between sugar consumption and health outcomes when scientists receive financial support from food and beverage companies.” [2]

Gosh, y’think? The sugar industry in the 1960’s paid Harvard scientists to downplay the link between sugar consumption and heart disease and promote saturated fat as the cause instead. It worked magically. Fat became the enemy of health, and the market was soon flooded with all sorts of low-fat and non-fat foods. And those foods generally contain about 20% more sugar than full-fat products.

In the study, the researchers wrote that “the rationale and evidence used to make each recommendation were inconsistent.” [2]

Baloney, says Schillinger. For one thing, he explains, the researchers reviewed guidelines published over a 20-year period. It’s no surprise that they found inconsistencies, as “science evolves over time.”

According to Schillinger, Johnston and his crew failed to even use proper research methods in their work. He says:

“In addition, their claims regarding the low quality of guidelines are based on the application of inappropriate metrics.”

He says that one of the methods the “scientists” used in the paper “is the wrong tool for the job and virtually guaranteed that they would falsely conclude that guidelines are of low quality.”

He also cites the sugar industry-fat debacle of the 60’s, calling it a “major limitation.”

In October, the American Journal of Preventative Medicine revealed how Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have sponsored national health and medical organizations. (In that case, even the American Diabetes Association, a government organization, took money from the companies.)

Schillinger says:

“Added sugars not only provide unnecessary and ’empty’ non-nutritious calories but also appear to affect unique and specific unhealthy metabolic pathways that contribute to obesity and diabetes and heart disease, irrespective of calories.

We are in a public health war against diabetes, and we need to create smart strategies to win this war and prevent needless suffering and death. This is serious business.”

There is no doubt that the added sugars pushed on buyers by Coca-Cola, Hershey’s, and Kraft, are causing disease, limb amputations, and deaths, Schillinger says.

“Nearly all experimental studies that examined whether eating added sugars contributes to obesity and [Type 2] diabetes-related outcomes show a cause-and-effect relationship.” [1]

Johnston swears that he, and ILSI, have good intentions:

“We hope that the results from this review can be used to promote improvement in the development of trustworthy guidelines on sugar intake.” [3]

If the spoonfuls of added sugar don’t make you sick, the veiled attempts at making more money off of the poor health of the average buyer just might.


[1] NPR

[2] CNN

[3] Fortune

McMaster University Daily News

Business Insider

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