Consumers are more aware than ever that maintaining a “healthy” diet is important, but they aren’t as clear on what that means, according to new research from Spoon Guru.

Founded in 2015, Spoon Guru has developed a food search engine for shoppers seeking products that serve their complex dietary preferences and requirements, such as gluten-free, dairy-free, allergen-free or low sugar. The startup’s technology pairs artificial intelligence and machine learning with nutritional expertise to determine a specific product’s suitability for an individual shopper based on the attributes they apply.

Through an April survey of 2,000 respondents, Spoon Guru found that four in 10 Americans say they’re afraid of developing a serious illness and nearly one in five consumers fear an early death caused by an unhealthy diet.

Almost three-quarters of shoppers said they have tried to improve their health over the last year, and half said they’ve tried to eat fewer processed foods over the same time period.

That’s good to hear, but it doesn’t offer a full picture. The survey revealed 88 percent of consumers still have unhealthy diets. More than 70 percent don’t understand the recommended levels of salt, fat and sugar consumption. And more than 65 percent of consumers eat five or more processed meals in a week.

Furthermore, 55 percent of survey respondents said they’re eating less sugar, but 29 percent were using honey as alternative and 19 percent were using maple syrup. This suggests that consumers don’t know that both sweeteners have high sugar contents — 17 grams and 14 grams per tablespoon, respectively.

This research indicates consumers have good intentions when it comes to pursuing a healthy lifestyle. And with all the talk surrounding wellness and how to achieve it, it’s not a surprise that these ideas are at the top of their minds. 

Execution is where the problem lies. It’s not easy to sift through conflicting messages about health and wellness. Is a keto diet the healthiest option? What about gluten-free? Paleo? Vegan? Low-sugar?

And then there’s the challenge of finding products that align with whatever diet consumers choose. Platforms like Spoon Guru, Label Insight and SmartLabel are certainly a good place to start. They can offer more information about food and beverage products while consumers are participating in a shopping experience. 

However, survey respondents said they’d like even more help from manufacturers and retailers. Two-thirds said they wanted lower costs on healthier options, while 44 percent said they wanted more promotions of healthy products. Just over a third want more healthy snacks by the checkout, and nearly the same amount want better placement of healthy foods in-store.

Nearly 40 percent of respondents said they want better food labels on packaging, and 37 percent want better food labels on shelves.

Of course, the FDA expects manufacturers to update their product nutrition labels over the next two years, and in the confectionery space, several candy makers have taken a pledge to improve on-pack nutrition information and rework portion sizes.

But as nutrition guidelines evolve, so will expectations for health and wellness. How that applies to food and beverage products will remain a work in progress. It’s up to manufacturers, retailers and consumers to work together toward understanding how nutrition, health and wellness fit together.