Avocados, omega-3-rich fish, and nuts and seeds are welcomed parts of a balanced diet, but have people cast aside the fear of fat that dominated the nutrition conversation years ago? According to a new survey of 1,000 American adults conducted by the International Food Information Council (IFIC), change in healthfulness perceptions of dietary fats is mixed.
Over one in three seek out “low-fat” or “reduced-fat” foods or beverages, while only one in 10 seek out full-fat products. When survey takers were asked if they seek out products with different labels related to their fat content, 36% said they seek out low-fat products and 35% reported looking for reduced-fat foods and beverages. In contrast, just 11% said they seek out full-fat products. People under 45 were more likely to seek out full-fat products, while those aged 45–64 were less likely to do so. People aged 65 and older and college-educated people were more likely to seek out products labeled as “low in saturated fat.”
Consumers were split on whether they would choose a higher-fat version of a product over a lower-fat version. When given a scenario in which two products differed only in their fat content—one that was higher in total fat and one that was lower in total fat—36% said they would consider choosing the higher-fat product, while 38% said they would not. People under age 45 and Hispanic/Latinx people were more likely to say that they would consider choosing a higher-fat product; people aged 65 and older were less likely to do so.
Half said that healthfulness perceptions of fat depended on the type of food. Survey takers were asked again to imagine that they were choosing between two products that differ only in their fat content—one full-fat and the other a low-fat version. When asked which they thought was healthier, 12% said that the full-fat version of the product would always be healthier than the low-fat version, while 29% said that the low-fat version would always be healthier. The largest group (51%), however, said that their perceptions of healthfulness related to fat content would depend on the type of food. Again, results differed by age: younger people were more likely to say that the full-fat version of a product is always healthier, while older age groups were much less likely to say so.
When asked how their opinions on the healthfulness of saturated fat, unsaturated fat, and fat overall had changed over the last 10 years, many (ranging from 43% for fat overall to 50% for unsaturated fats) said that their opinion had not changed. Saturated fat had the highest number of people who said they now have a less favorable opinion than they did in 2010 (38%) and the lowest number of people who said their opinion was more favorable now.