More than one in three US consumers are following a specific diet or eating pattern, and they are increasingly averse to carbohydrates and sugar, according to the 13th Annual Food and Health Survey, released by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation.

Given a list of diets to choose from, or the option to write in a response, 36% of Americans reported following a specific eating pattern or diet within the past year, about two-and-a-half times the number (14%) from 2017 when it was an open-ended question.

The top eating pattern cited was intermittent fasting (10%). Diets considered at least somewhat restrictive of carbohydrates were well-represented, including Paleo (7%), low-carb (5%), Whole30 (5%), high-protein (4%), and ketogenic/high-fat (3%). Younger consumers (age 18 to 34) were more likely to follow a specific eating pattern or diet than those 35 and above.

More Americans than in previous years blame carbs, and specifically sugars, for weight gain. While sugars continue to be the most cited cause of weight gain (33%), carbohydrates ranked second at 25%, up from 20% in 2017. Both of those numbers are the highest since 2011. Fats (16%), protein (3%) and “all sources” (17%) lagged behind when placing blame. 

Almost all consumers are interested in getting specific health benefits from food or nutrients. However, the top two desired health benefits in 2018 changed places from 2017: This year, 20% ranked cardiovascular health as their top desired benefit, followed by weight loss or weight management at 18% and energy at 13%. In 2017, those numbers were 16%, 32% and 14% respectively.

But consumers don’t know, and remain confused, about how to achieve these desired outcomes; only 38% are able to name a food they would seek out to help with their top health concern. Protein was most frequently identified (10%), followed by vegetables (7%), vitamins and minerals (5%) and fruits (4%).

“This dietary disconnect — the inability to connect specific foods and nutrients to desired health outcomes — illustrates the need for stronger, clearer, nutrition education based on the best available evidence,” said Joseph Clayton, CEO of the IFIC Foundation.

Eight in 10 (80%) consumers said there is a lot of conflicting information about what foods to eat or avoid, a number similar to 2017. Of those people, 59% say that conflicting information makes them doubt their food choices—but the data show a troubling disparity among ethnicities, with those who doubt their choices as a result of conflicting information rising to 78% of Hispanic consumers.

“Food values” continue their growth as a factor in consumers’ decision-making, with organics increasingly popular in purchasing choices. When shopping for foods and beverages, 29% buy those labeled “organic,” up from 25% in 2017.  The increase is even more significant when people eat out: 20% said they eat at restaurants with foods and beverages advertised as organic compared to 14% last year.

Similarly, 37% of shoppers bought foods and beverages billed as “natural,” up from 31% in 2017, and 26% of consumers ate at restaurants with “natural” food and beverage options compared to 23% in 2017.

The importance of sustainability in food production also loomed larger in 2018, with 59% of consumers saying it’s important that the foods they purchase and consume be produced in a sustainable way, jumping up from 50% in 2017.

Out of those 59% who believe sustainability is important, their top two most important individual factors of sustainability increased significantly over 2017: 33% in 2018 said reducing pesticides was their top priority, up from 27% in 2017, while ensuring an affordable food supply increased to 16% in 2018 from 10% last year.

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