WASHINGTON — More than half of U.S. consumers in the International Food Information Council Foundation’s 2019 Food and Health Survey said they were interested in learning more about plant-based diets. They had differing views on what a plant-based diet is, however, and a similar situation applied to environmental sustainability in the 14th annual survey released May 22.

Greenwald & Associates conducted the survey by using Dynata’s consumer panel to reach 1,012 Americans of the ages 18 to 80 from March 22 to April 9. Dynata formerly was known as ResearchNow.

While 73% said they had heard of plant-based diets, 51% said they were interested in learning more about them. Nearly one-third (32%) said a plant-based diet is a vegan diet that avoids all animal products, including eggs and dairy, and 30% said a plant-based diet emphasizes minimally processed foods that come from plants with limited consumption of animal meat, eggs and dairy. Other top answers were a vegetarian diet that avoids animal meat at 20% and eating as many fruits and vegetables as possible with no limit on consuming animal meat, eggs and dairy at 8%.

People still are eating animal protein as 52% of the survey respondents said they eat some form of it at least once a day. Thirty-four per cent said they eat plant-based protein at least once a day, but 24% said they are eating more plant protein than in the previous year, which compared to 12% for animal protein.

The survey for the first time asked consumers about clean eating, which was the most widely cited diet at 10%. Following a clean-eating diet were intermittent fasting at 9% and gluten-free and low-carb, both at 6%. The percentage of people trying ketogenic or high-fat diets increased to 6% from 3% in 2018. Dropping in interest were paleo, to 3% from 7% in 2018, and Whole30, to 2% from 5%.

Plant-based diet familiarity chart, IFIC

“While some diets are trendier or healthier than others, it’s clear a significant segment of consumers are adopting at least some kind of diet,” said Alexandra Lewin-Zwerdling, vice-president for research and partnerships at the Washington-based IFIC Foundation. “Consumers are continuing to seek out diets that align with their personal values while joining communities of other Americans adopting similar habits.”

The leading factor impacting food and beverage purchases was taste at 86%, up from 81% in 2018, followed by price at 68%, healthfulness at 62% and convenience at 57%.

In the survey, 54% said it is at least somewhat important that products they purchase be produced in an environmentally sustainable way. Among the 54%, several different definitions of environmentally sustainable emerged: 51% said locally produced, 47% said labeled as sustainably produced, 47% said labeled as non-bioengineered/non-G.M.O., 44% said labeled as organic, 41% said recyclable packaging and 35% said minimal packaging.

“The IFIC Foundation has been exploring more and more facets of sustainability in recent years, and the trends are unmistakable,” said Joseph Clayton, president and chief executive officer of the IFIC Foundation. “Values-based food decisions, which are sometimes at odds with established scientific consensus, continue to play a growing role in consumer food purchases.”