Despite consumers’ reported knowledge about nutrition, the majority (67%) believe they fall short of meeting “all or nearly all” of their nutrient needs.
The survey also showed significant disconnects between people’s beliefs about whether they are getting sufficient amounts of many specific nutrients and the reality of their diets, as judged by the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) recommended by experts.
A comparison between the survey’s findings about perceptions of diet adequacy (by specific nutrient) and National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data showed wide chasms between how many believe their intakes are adequate versus the actual DRIs. For nutrients such as vitamin D (68% perception vs. 32% consumption), potassium (61% vs. less than 3%), and fiber (67% vs. 5%), the discrepancy between perception and reality is quite stark. The high percentage of consumers who are meeting their needs for B vitamins (60% perception vs. 90% consumption) is a testament to the value of functional foods, especially fortified foods, as providing a “functional fix.”
“Functional foods” can be defined as foods that have benefits beyond basic nutrition—such as blueberries, yogurt and fortified milk, bread or cereal.
However, there are still gaps in knowledge and consumption of a variety of other functional compounds such as omega 3 fatty acids, lutein, flavonoids and zeaxanthin. One third, or less, of the population said they are not consuming enough of these nutrients to meet their needs or to get a health benefit.
It’s clear that Americans have an interest in functional foods. Similar to survey findings from 2009 and 2011, 90% of consumers in 2013 agreed that certain foods have health benefits beyond basic nutrition (87% in 2011, and 89% in 2009).
“While there is some disparity between perceived nutrient adequacy and actual nutrient intake, it is notable that consumers recognize the benefits their food can offer,” said Sarah Romotsky, RD, associate director of health and wellness at IFIC. “Indeed, health-promoting foods and food components play an important role in meeting nutrient needs and improving overall health.”
Consumer interest in learning more about functional foods remains high. Almost nine in 10 Americans (86%) are interested in learning more about foods that have health benefits beyond basic nutrition. Similar to 2011, almost half of all consumers (45%) are “very interested.”
Previous iterations of the survey revealed that even though consumers have a positive perception of functional foods, reported consumption of various functional components for health benefits remained stagnant. This year’s study further explored perceived barriers to functional foods. Respondents were offered a list of 16 potential reasons for not consuming more of these foods; on average, they selected 10 of those barriers, indicating that they perceive a variety of challenges. Specifically, price is the most common barrier, with more than half identifying it as a major reason. Other perceived barriers include skepticism of manufacturers’ motives for adding health components to products, preference for the purity of basic foods and taste.
The 2013 Functional Foods Consumer Survey was fielded by Mathew Greenwald & Associates of Washington, D.C., Jul. 9-22, and sampled 1,005 between ages 18 to 80. This is the eighth version of the survey dating back to 1998. Other topics in the survey include fortified foods, food processing and behavioral determinants of functional food consumption.