2017 IFIC Survey Results Indicate Continued Need for Education on Fats and Oils
Posted by , MS, RD, LD, FADA

shopping cart in grocery aisle

Price, convenience, taste and nutrition – they’re the key drivers of decision-making when it comes to food purchases. Within each category, there are a host of variables that change over time, such as whether consumers are willing to pay a higher price for organic and which cuisines are “in” this year. Within nutrition, insights also ebb, flow and evolve, and the International Food Information Council’s annual Food & Health Survey is a great place to track the movement. With their 2017 survey results just released at the end of May, here’s the study’s most recent insights on fats and oils.

Consumers do understand the health impacts of certain fats. In fact, more than 70% of survey respondents indicated that omega-3s are healthy and nearly 60% indicated saturated fats are unhealthy. When separated by age groups, some disparities in this data occur.  For example, while older adults are more likely to be managing heart disease, they are less likely than younger consumers to understand that omega-3’s are healthy. Older Americans are however more likely to say that saturated fats are unhealthy.

One interesting issue is the ongoing confusion about naming of the various fat types. The survey found that while 70% of survey respondents indicated omega-3s are healthy, just over 20% indicated EPA and DHA are healthy.  A clear 50% of consumers do not know if EPA and DHA are healthy or not.

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend replacing saturated fats with mono- and polyunsaturated fats (think canola, olive, soybean oils).  Yet, only 40% of IFIC survey respondents indicated that unsaturated fats are healthy. Nearly 40% believe they are neither healthy nor unhealthy, and more than 10% indicated they simply don’t know if unsaturated fats are healthy or not.

These survey results suggest a continued need for education focus on nutrient density within the fat category. While all consumers need help understanding that DHA and EPA are omega-3s, older Americans would benefit from education on the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. Tips, recipe modifications and meal time swaps will help consumers replace saturated fats with unsaturates.  egistered dietitians can also encourage food companies to label mono– and polyunsaturated fats on food labels, and educate their clients on terms to look for in ingredient listings that indicate the presence of healthier fats.

With 20-35% of calories coming from fat, the 2017 IFIC Food & Health survey is a great reminder of the need for ongoing education on more nutrient dense choices in the fat category and the need to replace saturates with unsaturates.