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Most Americans have a pretty good idea of which foods are healthy

Most Americans have a pretty good idea of which foods are healthy


Except for granola

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World Organic Trade Fair BioFach 2011
Photo by Miguel Villagran/Getty Images

The New York Times has conducted a study of US nutrition experts and the wider population, comparing their opinions on how healthy some of the most popular foods are. Though the Times article focuses on the disagreements between the two groups, what stands out to me is that there’s a broad consensus on a number of US diet mainstays.

Are pizza, beer, and diet soda good for your health or not? More than four fifths of the general respondents believe those food items to be unhealthy, though there’s a small silver lining in that the experts actually rated that trio a bit more highly. Still, everyone’s more or less on the same page about those, and about bacon, ice cream, french fries, and chocolate chip cookies — all are in the naughty lower left corner of the Times’ graph.

New York Times

In the goodie-goodie top right corner, there is again consensus between experts and laypeople, with almonds, carrots, eggs, oranges, and olive oil collecting plaudits from all sides. There’s an obvious correlation between the two groups’ judgment of various foods, which is only really upset by a disagreement in perception of some more recent and exotic additions to the US diet, such as quinoa, tofu, and sushi. The experts rate each of those as more healthy than the general populace.

Then there’s also the outstanding marketing job that sellers of granola have done in the US — the multi-grain cereal collects extremely high marks for health from most people (which only slightly drop when it’s in snack bar form), but the experts are far less enthusiastic. The nutrition pros recognize the sugar content, which tends to quietly balloon with granola bars, as a significant problem when trying to maintain a well balanced diet, and they rate frozen yogurt poorly for the same reason.

Ultimately, I’m encouraged not to see more epic outliers like granola. It gives me some comfort to know that the latest thinking in nutritional science and medicine is agreeing with the broad perceptions of healthy food across the country. Though, having said that, there’s a whole other, much more gnarly problem to unravel, which is the question of why people eat junk food even when they very well know that it’s junk food. No easy answers or culprits for that one, unfortunately.