Good, bad and ugly fats. But do consumers know which are which?

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition Us

Good, bad and ugly fats. But do consumers know which are which?
Consumers are increasingly aware that there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ fats, but only a third can correctly place polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats in the former category, according to new research.

Results from the 2011 Consumer Attitudes about Nutrition survey – an online poll of 1,000 adults conducted by the United Soybean Board (USB) – reveal 53% of US adults agreed that “following a moderate-fat diet but choosing good fats over bad fats​” was an effective strategy for improving overall health.

This compared with just 9% who believed “following a low-fat diet by reducing all fats​” was the best strategy and reflects government advice, which places greater emphasis on the type of fat we eat, not the overall amount.

However, when asked to rate different fats, just 33% agreed that monounsaturated fats were “very healthy​” or “somewhat healthy​”.

Consumers struggle to pinpoint healthier choices

Similarly, only a third of respondents agreed polyunsaturated fats were “very healthy​” or “somewhat healthy​”, whereas omega-3 fatty acids (which are​ polyunsaturated fats) were rated as healthy by a much larger number (79%), highlighting the confusion over terminology.

Meanwhile, while most agreed trans fats and saturated fats were not as healthy as other types, one in 10 of those polled believed trans fat (9%) and saturated fat (8%) to “very healthy​” or “somewhat healthy​”, noted the USB.

“Despite an interest in choosing good fats over bad, most US consumers have a hard time pinpointing the healthier choices.”

The findings correlate with the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Food & Health survey 2011, which revealed that almost a fifth of consumers claimed to be trying to limit intakes of both polyunsaturated fat (the category fish oils sit within) and monounsaturated fat (healthy fats found in olives, almonds, etc).

Butter vs margarine. But which is best?

The survey also highlighted confusion over the relative health credentials of butter and margarine.

While more than half of consumers polled (54%) considered butter to be healthier than margarine or buttery spreads, almost a quarter (24%) said they didn’t know which was healthier, compared with 14% in 2010, noted USB.

“Results indicate a real need/opportunity for margarine manufacturers to educate via product packaging.”

It added: “Consumers who think butter is healthier continue to cite their main reason as ‘it’s more natural’ than margarine. Those who believe margarine is healthier (33%) cite margarine’s lower fat content.”

Olive oil seen as healthiest cooking oil followed by flaxseed, canola and soy

As for which cooking oils to choose, olive oil was seen as the healthiest, followed by flaxseed oil, canola oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil and safflower oil, said USB.

“Consumers continue to perceive soybean oil as a healthy choice. Among consumers with an opinion on healthiness, 81% think soybean oil is very or somewhat healthy.”

The number of consumers that has tried soymilk has more than doubled over the last decade to 43%, revealed the survey, while Edamame has overtaken veggie burgers to take the number two spot in the “most consumed soyfoods​” rankings behind soymilk.

The survey also highlighted a discrepancy between consumption patterns at home and in restaurants, with many consumers that eat soy products at home saying they rarely eat them in restaurants because they are not available on the menu.

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