Tracking Americans’ Love-Hate Relationship with What We Eat

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As both a food-loving and food-phobic society, Americans have a tendency to obsess over certain foods and diet trends—vilifying them after they lose their allure and championing them anew when they return to favor. Some of these shifts are driven by emerging research or a reframing of the science, but in reality, perception and consumer opinions are major drivers of these transitions.

By tracking consumer views on dietary trends and food choices over the last 12 years, we’ve documented the swing of the pendulum of public opinion toward a more positive outlook on dietary fats after the “eating fat will make you fat” phase that began in the 1980s. At the same time, we’ve observed shifts in consumer perspectives on carbohydrates, particularly sugars, which are now under a bright spotlight of public scrutiny.

These evolving viewpoints raise a number of interesting questions. Does opinion change translate into measurable modifications of dietary intake? What nutritional risks are posed by limiting carbohydrate and sugar intakes? And are as many people following a low-carbohydrate diet as it seems?

Ali Webster, IFIC’s Associate Director of Nutrition Communications, and Kris Sollid, Senior Director of Nutrition Communications, aim to answer these questions in the May/June 2018 edition of Cereal Foods World, a publication of the American Association of Cereal Chemists International. Using information amassed from over a decade of the Food & Health Survey, they explore the evolving public perceptions of carbohydrates and sugars, correlating these perceptions with evidence (or lack thereof) behind corresponding behavior changes, and discuss new food and diet trends, including low-carbohydrate diets like the ketogenic and Paleo diets.

Their take-home message? There is a critical need to break through the noise generated by non-credentialed social media influencers and others who don’t promote fact-based science.

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