Growing interest in the relationship between health and diet is spurring consumer demand for "functional foods." Recent findings from the 13th Annual Consumer Attitudes About Nutrition National Study highlight a continued interest and involvement in nutrition and health issues and an increased awareness of the health benefits of functional foods such as soy.

The International Food Information Council (IFIC) defines functional foods as "foods or dietary components that may provide a health benefit beyond basic nutrition." Factors such as an aging population, increased health care costs and rapid advances in science and technology are likely driving the increased interest among consumers in attaining wellness through diet, which is in turn, fueling interest in functional foods and changing the way America eats. In the study, sponsored by the United Soybean Board (USB), nearly nine out of ten (87 percent) of consumers report being at least somewhat concerned about nutritional content of the foods they eat and three-quarters say they have changed their eating habits in the past three to five years due to health concerns.

Soy foods, beverages and oils offer three options for consumers looking to increase their intake of heart healthy foods. In the study, consumers continue to recognize soybean oil as one of the healthiest cooking oils. Steve Poole, USB's director of soyfoods and soybean oil programs commented, "I'm not surprised that consumers recognize the healthfulness of soybean oil. Liquid soybean oil is naturally low in saturated fat and contains zero grams of trans fat."

Through an initiative called QUALISOY, the soybean industry is working hard to create new oils that will help the food industry address consumer concerns and manufacture healthier products. According to Poole, "examples include lowering trans fat and saturated fat content, and one day even increasing heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids in soy oil."

Additionally, an increasing number of consumers recognize soy foods and beverages as healthy. Perception of soy's healthfulness jumped significantly in 2006 to 82 percent, up 15 percentage points from 67 percent in 1998, signifying an important upward trend in consumer awareness. Thirty percent of consumers put that knowledge into practice by consuming soyfoods once a month or more. Over half have tried soy foods or beverages in restaurants and over one-third say they would order soy products if they could find them on the menu.

Lisa Kelly, MPH, RD, added, "It's great that consumers are gaining an increased knowledge of the link between nutrition and health. The more we know about the specific health benefits available to us through our diet, the better equipped we are to make wise food choices and take control of our health."

USB's thirteenth annual Consumer Attitudes About Nutrition study was conducted by an independent research firm. Methodology changed significantly this year, from telephone interviews to an online self-administered survey. The study includes 1,000 random online interviews collected in February and March of 2006 that are consistent with the total American population. The error of margin is +/- 1.9 - 3.1 percent, with a confidence interval of 95 percent.

The United Soybean Board is a farmer-led organization comprised of 64 farmer-directors. USB oversees the investments of soybean checkoff on behalf of all U.S. soybean farmers. For more soy health information, please visit .

SOURCE United Soybean Board