WASHINGTON — The International Food Information Council Foundation’s 2016 Food and Health Survey recast its descriptor for grain-based foods and elicited significantly more diverse results from respondents.
While the 2015 survey asked respondents whether they were trying to consume or avoid “refined carbohydrates,” the 2016 survey renamed the category “enriched refined grains.” To the earlier wording, 26% of respondents said they were trying to limit or avoid grain-based foods while only 4% said they were trying to consume a certain amount or as much as possible.
With the 2016 wording, which is more closely in line with the preferred “enriched grains” terminology of the Grain Foods Foundation, 21% of respondents said they were trying to limit or avoid the grain-based foods category while 20% said they sought to consume a certain amount or as much as possible.
College graduates were more likely to say they were trying to limit or avoid enriched/refined grains.
The 96-page annual survey was issued last week. The inquiry about enriched refined grains was part of a section looking into consumer attitudes toward a wide range of ingredients. Enriched refined grains ranked 12th in 2016 among ingredient categories most highly sought by consumers, while in 2015 grain-based foods ranked near the bottom.
Probing how consumers would respond to altered terminology for grain-based foods was the intent of IFIC, said Sarah Romotsky, a registered dietitian with the group.
“We wanted to distinguish between consumers’ perceptions of whole grains vs. enriched refined grains,” she said. “Often the term ‘refined grains,’ is used in media headlines and stories. We wanted to see how consumers responded to that terminology and learn more about their perceived barriers when it comes to consuming that nutrient. We did not point out differences between enriched and refined. We only used the term ‘enriched refined grains.’ “
The most highly sought ingredients in the survey were protein (64%), fiber (60%), whole grains (59%), vitamins (56%) and potassium (48%).
Avoided most assiduously in 2016, according to the survey were added sugars (61%), high-fructose corn syrup (53%), sodium/salt (53%), sugars in general (52%), preservatives (50%), artificial flavors (45%) and saturated fats (44%). The 2016 survey found 20% saying they were trying to limit or avoid gluten, which compared to 19% in 2015.
When asked whether their opinion of enriched/refined grains had changed in the past year, 11% said they thought the grains were more healthful and 19% said they thought the grains were less healthful.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans drew a distinction between refined grains and enriched grains in the following passage: “Most refined grains are enriched, a process that adds back iron and four B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folic acid). Because of this process, the term ‘enriched grains’ is often used to describe these refined grains.” The Dietary Guidelines also said people who eat refined grains should choose enriched grains.
In the 2016 IFIC survey, people of the ages 50-80, people with higher incomes, women and people in better health were more likely to say they were trying to consume fiber. People age 50-80, college graduates, people with higher incomes, women and people in better health were more likely to say they were trying to consume whole grains.
The IFIC survey covered other areas pertinent to the grain-based foods industry such as bioengineered/G.M.O. ingredients, sweeteners and fats.
More than half the respondents gave neutral answers to a question on biotechnology. When asked their overall impression of biotechnology or G.M.O.s, 26% said they were neither favorable nor unfavorable and 25% said they did not know enough about it to form an opinion. Other answers were somewhat favorable (16%), not very favorable (14%), not at all favorable (13%) and very favorable (6%).
Consumers’ views on sweeteners generally were more negative in the 2016 IFIC survey. When asked what they were trying to limit or avoid, 61% said added sugars, up from 54% in 2015, and 53% said high-fructose corn syrup, up from 48%. College graduates, people with higher incomes and women were more likely to say they tried to limit or avoid these two sweeteners.
In the 2016 survey, 44% said they were trying to limit or avoid saturated fats, down from 47% in 2015, and 53% said they were trying to limit or avoid sodium/salt, the same percentage as in 2015.
While the Food and Drug Administration this year received public comments on whether or not to create a definition for “natural” in food labeling, the 2016 IFIC survey asked people what the term natural means to them when applied to food. The top answer was no preservatives or additives at 29%. Other answers with double-digit percentages were natural ingredients/straight from nature/whole foods at 19%, no artificial ingredients or flavors at 17%, no chemicals/hormones/pesticides/antibiotics at 14% and no processing at 11%.
Greenwald & Associates conducted the IFIC survey of 1,003 Americans aged 18 to 80 from March 17-24.