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Public And Experts Disagree On Which Foods Are Healthy

Granola bar
Granola bars may appear to be healthy, but are full of sugar (that's why they're delicious). baibaz/Shutterstock

We’re used to being swamped with dietary advice. One article tells us that sugar is the enemy, another that we should be eating more fat. But how does this translate into how we perceive many common foods? A survey, carried out by the New York Times, looked into how healthy the public thought 52 foods were, and then compared it to what nutritionists thought. The answers, it seems, are quite telling.

Some obvious items were consistently identified as being terrible for your health by both the public and the nutritionists, namely soda, chocolate chip cookies, and French fries, which is hardly surprising. And, conversely, there were those ranked as the healthiest by both groups, including spinach, kale, almonds, and carrots. But there were some items of food that Americans believed were healthier than the experts think that they actually are, and those that nutritionists rate as being good for you, while the public is less certain.


One of the biggest discrepancies were for granola bars. While over 70 percent of the public think that granola bars are “healthy”, this view is only shared by 28 percent of nutritionists. The actual truth is that while the bar may pertain to be healthy, they are actually stuffed with sugar. A similar picture emerges for coconut oil (72 percent of the public, compared to 37 percent of experts) and frozen yogurt (66 percent public, 32 percent experts).

On the flip side, there are other foods that the nutritionists deemed to be healthy, but which the public are a little less sure of. While close to 90 percent of the experts thought that the South American grain quinoa was good for you, this was only matched by 58 percent of the public, and while three out of four nutritionists were singing the praises of sushi, less than half of the public agreed. This, it is thought, may be down to how new these foods are, relatively speaking, to the American public and thus their uncertainty to their healthfulness.

The survey also shows something else interesting. While there may be confusion among the public as to the healthfulness of newer foods, there is a shared confusion among the public and nutritionists of another small group of items: whole milk, steak, cheddar cheese, butter, and pork chops. The thing that these four items share in common not only confuses the public, but divides nutritionists too. That thing is fat.

We’re all well aware of the often conflicting advice the public gets bombarded with on a near-monthly basis over how much fat we should be eating. One report comes out saying that the stuff has been unfairly “demonized”, while another will invariably state that advice to eat more is “irresponsible”. Unsurprisingly this has an overall impact of completely befuddling the public as to what to believe. Yet the survey data seems to show that they are not alone, as even the experts are split, meaning that there is little hope for the rest of us to understand it anytime soon.


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