Which health buzzwords are most important to consumers: preservative-free, GMO-free, all natural, no sugar added, reduced sodium, superfoods? The list could go on and on. In the past few years, the news has linked increased sugar consumption with a higher risk of death from heart disease. It seems consumers have started to listen.

Since April 2015, we have been asking consumers the following question “Which of these do you feel is most harmful to your nutritional health?” It was a topic we covered in May 2015, and it wasn’t until recently that we began to see shifts in opinion.

Graph: Ingredients consumers feel are most harmful to their health

Take a look at the trending data:

Trendline graph: Ingredients consumers feel are most harmful

The number of consumers choosing preservatives / chemicals is decreasing. In 2015, 36% of adults believed preservatives were the most harmful, and in 2016, that number dropped slightly to 33%. Added and total amount of sugar saw a larger jump. In 2015, 24% of adults chose sugars, whereas in 2016, 29% answered the same way. (Note: 17% of adults believe the total amount of sugar is most harmful, while 12% believe added sugar is the most harmful. Both answers are trending upwards by the same amount, so we decided to combine the options.)

If this trend continues, we could expect to see the number of people who believe sugars are most harmful to surpass the number of people who think preservatives and chemicals are most harmful. It doesn’t mean consumers no longer care about chemical and preservative-free foods. Maybe they have just come to expect that their foods are free of preservatives and chemicals.

More consumers are starting to view sugar in a negative light when it comes to their health, and it doesn’t matter if it’s natural sugar or added sugar. Consumers may start altering their diets to reflect these concerns. Food and beverage companies and restaurants may want to start thinking of switching the focus from “preservative-free” and “all natural” to terms such as “made from natural sugars” or “no sugar added”.

We will continue tracking this question to catch any future shifts.