IFIC: Keto tumbles as basic calorie-counting becomes Americans’ top diet of choice during pandemic

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IFIC: Keto tumbles as basic calorie-counting becomes Americans’ top diet of choice during pandemic

By Elizabeth Crawford 19-May-2021 – Last updated on 19-May-2021 at 16:46 GMT

Despite an uptick in snacking and consumption of indulgent foods and beverages during the pandemic, the number of Americans dieting last year held steady compared to previous years – but their approaches and motivations shifted to reflect changing pressures related to COVID-19, according to new research from the International Food Information Council.

IFIC’s 16th​ annual Food & Health Survey​ released today found four in ten of the 1,014 Americans aged 18-80 years contacted in late March reported following a diet or eating pattern in 2020 – with the highest concentration among younger consumers 18-34 years old (52% vs. 33% older than 35 years), women (43% vs 34% of men), Hispanics (50% vs 34% of non-Hispanic whites) and parents with children younger than 18 years (53% vs 34% without children under 18 years).

While there were “no big shifts in the number of people who followed a diet”​ there were big shifts in the types of diets they followed and why they followed them, said Ali Webster, director of research and nutrition communications at IFIC.

For example, she explained the top diet trend in 2020 wasn’t a buzzy fad with complicated rules about when to eat or what to eat – rather it was old-fashioned calorie-counting.

“Something that has been around forever, super-basic, [was] actually the most popular diet type that we’ve seen this year. That jumped to the top right away, and beat out other options like clean-eating and intermittent fasting, which are in the top three,”​ she explained.

Notably, the rise in popularity of calorie-counting pushed down other diets that have stolen the spotlight in recent years and dominated product innovation and marketing strategies, including the ketogenic diet or high-fat diet, which fell to account for roughly 5% of the dieters’ choice compared with around 8% in last year’s survey.

However, the slightly broader low-carb diet, which follows many of the same tenets as Keto came in one notch higher in fourth place with just over 5% of dieters, according to IFIC.

Source: IFIC food & health survey 2020 and 2021The percentage of Americans following some type of “cleanse,”​ which IFIC did not define, also dropped last year to about 1-2%, but as Webster notes “a very small fraction of Americans”​ have traditionally reported following a cleanse.

While the research didn’t specifically explore what was behind the drop in Keto, Webster hypothesized that the diet may have been too complicated for many Americans in a year filled with so much uncertainty and anxiety related to the pandemic.

“This year involved a lot of stressors and involved a lot of anxiety with people turning toward comfort food, towards things that were familiar to them to feel good – at least for a little while – emotionally and psychologically. And, so I wonder if it was just a lower priority for people to be restricting themselves in such a way … when we were spending so much time at home and had so many other things on our mind,”​ she explained.

Noting the keto diet is “notoriously”​ difficult to follow, Webster added that consumers interested in dieting likely opted for something more straight-forward, such as calorie-counting, or even intermittent fasting, which restricts when people eat but not what they eat.

She also noted that the keto diet didn’t allow for participation in other major dietary trends in 2020, including the country’s obsession with sourdough and baking in general.

Long-term health rises as a top diet motivator​Why consumers opted to diet also shifted last year to reflect the reality of pandemic-living, with more people noting they were motivated for health and wellness reasons, according to IFIC.

While the top motivator for adopting a diet remained losing weight at just under 40%, Webster noted fewer people were focused on this reason than prior years. Similarly, she said dieting to improve physical appearance, which accounted for just under 30%, also fell compared to prior years.

Webster hypothesized that fewer people dieted for their physical appearance because looks weren’t as top of mind in the past year with most people spending the majority of their time at home and with only immediate friends or family compared to previous years when people have been more mobile.

“We’ll see how this shifts next year as we kind of move back toward our normal lifestyles,”​ she added.

A very close second to wanting to lose weight was adopting a diet to protect long-term health or prevent future health conditions, according to IFIC. Wanting to feel better and have more energy was the third most prevalent motivator followed by wanting to better manage a health condition.

The importance of health as a motivator was particularly high among ol…

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