Keeping track of which foods are healthy and which foods are not can feel like a daunting, Sisyphean task at times. Over the course of the last week alone, we’ve seen researchers rebrand two longstanding dietary villains—butter and pasta—as new gateways to healthier lifestyles. One day we’re told that granola is the devil, and the next day some guy from Texas claims he’s lost 140 pounds by eating Chick-fil-A all year. Clearly, facts don’t matter.
The only thing that’s for sure in 2016 is that Americans have no idea what the hell is good for them anymore. As the Food and Drug Administration prepares to review the products it deems “healthy” this year—particularly items that contain certain fats—the New York Times has partnered with the polling firm Morning Consult to find out just how wide the gap is between public perception and expert knowledge when it comes to nutrition.
Surveying members of the American Society for Nutrition, as well as a representative sample of the American electorate, the poll found a deep fissure between the two groups. 88 percent, 72 percent, and 66 percent of the public believe that granola, coconut oil, and frozen yogurt are healthy food choices, respectively. For the same items, the numbers are far lower—47, 37, and 32 percent—when it comes to experts.
Still, much remains unknown when it comes to nutrition, and experts often disagree amongst themselves when it comes to the merits and faults of certain foods.
“Twenty years ago, I think we knew about 10 percent of what we need to know about nutrition],” Dariush Mozaffarian, the dean of the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, told the Times. “And now we know about 40 or 50 percent.”
On the flipside, nutritionists believe a wide-range of foods and beverages to be healthy, while the general public remains skeptical. Quinoa, tofu, sushi, hummus, wine, and shrimp all ranked in the 70, 80 and 90 percentiles with experts, while the public’s perception clocked in between 49 and 69 percent for the items.
The Times speculates that the division over foods like quinoa might stem from how nascent they are in the American diet. Unsurprisingly, average Americans and nutritionists were able to agree that items like apples, oranges, chicken, and oatmeal were healthy, while hamburgers, beef jerky, cookies, and diet soda were decidedly unhealthy.
Most of the confusion when it comes to nutritional value continues to stem from fat. Both experts and the public reported feeling confused about hearty items like steak, milk, pork chops, and cheddar cheese.
While the average American may not feel like he or she know all the ins and outs of nutrition, perhaps they can find some solace in the fact that nutritionists don’t really have all the answers, either.
“Where does this leave a well-meaning but occasionally confused shopper?” the Times writes. “Reassured, perhaps: Nutrition science is sometimes murky even to experts.”
[via New York Times]