Which foods and drinks do Americans think are bad for them?

Taylor OrthDirector of Survey Data Journalism
July 08, 2022, 3:36 PM GMT+0

A recent YouGov poll finds a lack of American consensus on the health effects of many common foods and drinks. In a survey conducted in late June, we asked Americans whether more than a dozen foods and drinks – including salt, red meat, coffee, red wine, and olive oil – help or hurt a person’s health, when consumed in moderation. Previous analyses have shown that even nutrition researchers frequently disagree on what constitutes a healthy diet. Studies often contradict one another when it comes to measuring the health effects of different types of nutrition.

There are, however, certain foods and drinks that Americans agree on when it comes to health. More than half of people say that each of diet soda (61%) and sugar (59%) are detrimental to a person’s health. In terms of what Americans agree is beneficial to health, each of the following food or drink is called beneficial by a majority of U.S. adult citizens:

  • Carrots (83% say they’re beneficial)
  • Spinach (83%)
  • Bananas (81%)
  • Fish (79%)
  • Olive oil (65%)
  • Dark chocolate (64%)
  • Herbal tea (62%)
  • Milk (61%)

Which foods and drinks are most likely to divide Americans? Four of the foods and drinks we polled on lacked a consensus view: fewer than half of Americans think each one is healthy, and fewer than half think it's harmful. These include:

  • Salt (23% say it's beneficial; 44% detrimental; 19% no effect)
  • Red meat (37% beneficial; 27% detrimental; 18% no effect)
  • Black coffee (36% beneficial; 14% detrimental; 29% no effect)
  • Red wine (46% beneficial; 14% detrimental; 20% no effect)

While half of the sample was asked about the general health effects of different foods and drinks, the other half was asked a question about how the same items affected respondents personally (“For you personally, do you think that consuming the following in moderation is…?”) We find that responses to this question are similar to the results of the generalized question.

— Carl Bialik contributed to this article.

This poll was conducted on June 21 - 29, 2022, among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Explore more on the methodology and data for this poll.

Image: Mukhina1 / iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

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