There are always new studies emerging and new articles informing us what to cut out of our diet, making it difficult for consumers to keep up with the latest food and health trends. The latest news and trends seem to focus on “clean eating,” and food manufacturers and retailers are making moves to capture the loyalty of consumers. An increasing number of restaurants and packaged food and beverage companies are announcing menu and ingredient changes. For example, just last month Chipotle announced it will seek to eliminate GMOs from their food and Panera Bread recently announced plans to get rid of a whopping 150+ food additives by the end of 2016.

But what do consumers believe is most harmful to their health? Will consumers be more influenced to purchase a product that has 25% less sodium or will they be more willing to buy the product if it doesn’t contain artificial sweeteners?

Our latest Insight Report uses our syndicated data to better understand consumers’ thoughts on what ingredients they feel are most harmful and then we profiled the respondents based on their concerns. In the beginning of April 2015, we launched the following question:

Nutritional Health - food additives UPDATED

Of those who believe one of the items listed is harmful (eliminating the 9% who don’t feel any are harmful), 38% believe preservatives and chemicals are most harmful to their nutritional health, followed by 16% who think saturated fats are the worst, 15% who think total amount of sugar, and 10% answered sodium. However, if you combine the two “sugar” answers, we find that 24% believe sugar is most harmful – making that consumers’ second-leading choice.

After looking at the demographics of those who chose one of the top 5 food concerns – preservatives and chemicals, amount of sugar (combining those who answered “Added sugar” and “Total amount of sugar”), saturated fat, sodium and GMOs, a few things stood out:

Gender: Women are more likely to be concerned with preservatives and chemicals and GMOs than men, whereas men are slightly more concerned about sugars, saturated fats, and sodium levels.

Age: Those who answered saturated fats and GMOs as being most harmful to their nutritional health are slightly more likely to fall in the Millennial age bucket than the others. Those who believe sodium is most harmful are more likely to be older.

Income: Those with a higher income of $75K and over are slightly more likely to be concerned with sugar levels than the other groups.

Education: When it comes to higher education, those who chose sugar and GMOs are more likely to have graduate/professional degrees than average.

Next we took a more detailed look at the lifestyle and health habits of those who answered preservatives and chemicals – the most popular answer options and those who answered GMOs – which seems to be a hot topic in the news lately.

With 35% of U.S. adults choosing preservatives and chemicals, this group has many similar behaviors when compared to the general population. Food marketers and R&D teams could achieve the “biggest bang for their buck” and maximize benefits by reducing and advertising the lack of preservatives and chemicals in their products. On the other hand, those who believe GMOs are most harmful have a number of differences when compared to the general population, so they are more of a niche group of consumers.

It’s important for companies and restaurants to take into account consumers’ opinions of what is most harmful to their health and learn about their health and wellness and shopping habits, in order to market and advertise accordingly. For example, those who care most about GMOs tend to be younger than average and are more likely to snack multiple times a day, but other consumers, such as those who are concerned about sodium levels, are older in age and are more likely to be unaware about the topic of GMOs.

View the full, detailed report.