WASHINGTON — Fiber and whole grains ranked first and second, respectively, among components adults most want to add to their diets, according to a survey by the International Food Information Council (IFIC).

In the 2009 IFIC Foundation Food and Health Survey, 37% of respondents put fiber among the top three "potentially beneficial components" they want in foods and beverages while 34% listed whole grains.

Eight other components lagged fiber and whole grains in the survey, including protein, 28%; calcium, 26%; antioxidants, 19%; vitamin C, 18%; omega-3 fatty acids/DHA, 10%; vitamin D, 8%; B vitamins, 7% and potassium, 6%.

The findings were part of a broad survey conducted Feb. 19 to March 11 by Cogent Research of Cambridge, Mass., on behalf of the IFIC. The web-based survey consisting of 120 questions was filled out by 1,064 respondents. The survey has been conducted annually since 2006.

For grain-based foods, the survey offered a mix of good and not-so-good perceptions. In some cases, responses were not entirely consistent.

For instance, 64% of consumers view refined carbohydrates as "not at all healthful," or "not very healthful." At the same time, 49% of Americans see complex carbohydrates as "somewhat healthful" or "extremely healthful."

In the case of high-fructose corn syrup, 77% of consumers hold a "not at all healthful" or "not very healthful" view, versus 62% applying those terms to sugar.

While the survey suggested many consumers have doubts about the value of white flour, carbohydrate-bashing diets appear to be falling further from favor.

Awareness of the "glycemic index" and "glycemic load" continues to decrease. Only 34% of consumers surveyed were aware of the glycemic index in 2009, down from 46% in 2007. For glycemic load, awareness declined to 11% in 2009 from 20% in 2007.

Awareness of fiber and whole grains remained high in 2009, 87% and 83%, respectively, though not quite as high as the year before, 92% and 87%.

This slippage aside, the IFIC survey indicated a significant increase in the percentage of consumers trying to increase consumption of fiber and whole grains from 2006. For fiber, the figure was 79% in 2009 versus 73% in 2006. For whole grains, the percentage was 81%, versus 73%.

Groups most likely to be trying to increase fiber and whole grains in the diet are women, those who are 65 and older, those with college degrees, whites/Caucasians and those who describe their health as "very good" or "excellent," the survey said.

While fiber and whole grains are at the top of the list for components consumers seek for themselves, the ingredients are not as great a priority for what they seek for their children. Calcium and vitamin C ranked first and second, at 39% and 31%, respectively. Whole grains came in third at 26%, with fiber tied for fifth with vitamin D at 19%.

Looking at trends in dietary fats, the IFIC said 67% of consumers are concerned with the amount of fat and 69% are concerned with the type of fat they consume.

A shrinking percentage of consumers have a positive view of many fats generally placed in the "healthy oils" camp. For instance, 54% of consumers described soybean oil as "healthful" (versus 60% in 2008); canola, 52% (59%); and sunflowerseed, 49% (58%).

By contrast, the survey showed fewer consumers trying to cut back on oils generally characterized as less healthy. For trans fatty acids, 64% of consumers in 2009 said they were seeking to reduce intake, versus 70% in 2007; saturated fats, 63%, versus 73%; and animal fats, 63%, versus, 73%.

"When asked for the first time in 2009, a large proportion of consumers say they are trying to consume less hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils (both at 56%)," the IFIC said.

Looking broadly at changes in consumer attitudes in 2009 versus 2008, the IFIC said the economy has moved "to the forefront of the American psyche."

"Many Americans are worried about putting food on the table for their families as millions have lost their jobs," the IFIC said. "Additionally, consumers are bombarded with news about changing dietary guidance, food safety crises and seemingly ever-changing food information."

Against this backdrop, consumers’ concern with their weight appeared to decline significantly from previous years. Seventy per cent of respondents described themselves as "concerned" with their weight, versus 75% in 2008. While 53% of consumers are trying to lose weight, a figure unchanged from 2008, a smaller percentage of those making dietary changes are citing weight loss as the reason — 61% in 2009, versus 69% in 2008.

Reviewing specific changes made to improve healthfulness of the diet, 79% of respondents said they had changed the types of food and/or food components they were eating over the previous six-month period (e.g., protein, fruit, calcium).

Other changes included changing the amount of food they eat, 69%; changing how often they eat, 44%; changing their use of dietary supplements, 19%; and counting calories, 17%.

Among respondents eating more of a specific food, vegetables, including salads, were cited by 60%, followed by fruits/juices at 53% and whole grains at 11%. Among respondents eating less of a specific food, dietary fats ranked first at 22%; sugar, 18%; junk food/snacks, 13%; candy/sweets/chocolate, 13%; red meat/beef, 12%; and carbohydrates, 11%.

Asked about the relationship between weight gain and the source of calories, "about one-third of Americans (30%) correctly identify that ‘calories in general are most likely to cause weight gain,’" the IFIC said.

A slightly larger number, 34%, fingered fats as most likely to cause weight gain while fewer believe that calories from carbohydrates (18%) or calories from protein (1%), are most responsible for weight gain.

Asked about their weight status, 33% used the term "ideal" to describe their weight, up from 25% in 2008 and 28% in 2007. Describing themselves as "overweight" were 54% of respondents, and 9% used the term "obese."

Respondents were asked to provide their height and weight, allowing the IFIC to calculate the body mass index scores for the group. While 34% fit into the normal range, in line with the self-assessments, 33% were obese and 32% were overweight.

While the IFIC seeks a representative sample for the survey, the B.M.I. profile was significantly lower in 2009 than 2008. The 33% of obese B.M.I. scores in 2009 compared with 41% in 2008.

The proportion of respondents describing themselves as physically active in 2009 was on par with 2007 but down from 2008. Still, the numbers remained high, at 83% in 2009, versus 88% in 2008 and 84% in 2007. The average number of days respondents said they exercise is 3.34 days per week, versus 3.72 days in 2008.

While 93% of Americans view breakfast as important to a healthful diet, a higher proportion than for any other meal, only 44% eat breakfast seven days a week. By that measure, breakfast is the least popular meal of the day, in contrast with dinner, eaten daily by 79% of respondents, and lunch, eaten daily by 56%.

"Nearly all Americans eat at least one snack per day (94%), with the mean number being 2.24 snacks per day, a significant decrease from 2008 and 2007 (2.61 and 2.60, respectively)," the IFIC said.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Milling and Baking News, June 2, 2009, starting on Page 12. Click
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