01/25/2012 08:12 am ET Updated Jan 25, 2012

Global Health Food: Nielsen Survey Reveals Food Attitudes Around The World

What makes food healthy? We all know the rules of basic nutrition: whole grains, lots of veggies, lean protein -- as well as less sugar, salt and saturated fat. But when it comes to shopping with better health in mind, do we all pick the same foods off the shelves? How do supermarket shoppers in Dubai or Dubrovnik compare to the people wandering down the aisles in Denver?

In a survey of consumers' healthful eating habits, the global analytics group Nielsen found that global citizens differ slightly on what they consider a health-promoting food. They provided a list of ten health foods and asked a total of 25,000 respondents from 56 countries to choose which foods they regularly purchased with health in mind. Then, they divided the responders by five regions: Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America, Middle East/Africa and North America. Some foods -- like whole grains and yogurt made the top list in each region. But other foods, like soy milk and fermented drinks were pretty culture-specific.

What we all have in common, meanwhile, is some difficulty determining what's healthy: while 53 percent of respondents around the globe said they were actively trying to lose weight and 78 percent agreed that diet was the primary way to achieve weight loss, 59 percent said they had trouble interpreting nutrition labels.

What's more, a majority of respondents said they were skeptical of health claims on packaging. Fully 68 percent of respondents were at least sometimes skeptical of the label 'All Natural' (and with good reason -- at least in the United States, it has no legal meaning), while 70 percent were sometimes skeptical of the term, 'Organic.' Large proportions of the respondents were even skeptical of basic information, like calorie counts (58 percent) and fat breakdowns (63 percent). Without confidence in the information provided by food manufacturers, how are consumers making choices in the supermarket aisle? As the rankings in the slideshow indicate, a combination of cultural knowledge and nutritional information may be driving food choices.