ST. LOUIS — More than 8 in 10 consumers, or 81%, rated soy products as healthy on an aided basis, according to the 18th annual “Consumer attitudes about nutrition: Insights into nutrition, health and soyfoods” from the United Soybean Board. The percentage dipped from 84% in 2010 but was up from 67% in 1998, the first year of the study.

On an unaided basis, 23% of consumers in the survey mentioned heart health as a benefit of soy while 22% mentioned it as a source of protein, which was up from 16% in 2010. Other benefits mentioned were low in fat, at 17%, regulates hormones/good for women, at 15% and up from 3% in 2010, and cholesterol-lowering, at 10%.

An independent research firm conducted the nationwide survey for the soybean board in January. It included 1,000 random surveys and had a margin of error of plus or minus 1.9% to 3.1%. Survey respondents in 2011 were more willing, at 56%, to pay more for healthier versions of food than they were in 2010, at 53%, and 2009, at 54%. The percentages were 56% in 2008 and 60% in 2007.

Cost remains an obstacle to purchasing healthier food. When asked why they may not be willing to pay more for healthier food, 46% said they would like to but cannot afford it. Other reasons given were “the food I buy is already healthy” (21%), “healthier food wouldn’t taste as good” (13%), “other” (15%) and “don’t know” (6%).
About half (49%) of consumers feel information about health and nutrition is too confusing while 90% review the Nutrition Facts Panel when deciding which foods to purchase.

In a survey section on oils, 67% of the consumers recognized soybean oil as healthy, which placed it lower than olive oil (89%), flaxseed oil (75%) and canola oil (72%) and higher than sunflower oil (65%) and safflower oil (62%).

Among the consumers surveyed, 79% viewed omega-3 fatty acids as very/somewhat healthy. Polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats, each at 33%, were not as recognized for their healthy attributes. Trans fats mistakenly were viewed as very/somewhat healthy by 9% of consumers, and saturated fats were viewed as very/somewhat healthy by 8% of consumers.