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Foods that are labeled as healthy: Are they really good for you?

A communications professor at the University of Houston published a study that look at how buzzwords like “organic, whole grains, all natural” affect the health perception of the products.  By using the exact same image of the same product with the slight twist of adding or subtracting the buzzwords, researchers found that when products were given these trigger words, they were rated significantly healthier than the exact same product with the “buzzworthy” word or image removed.  By simply adding a health-associated word such as “all natural” to Tostitos, the product is viewed as healthier than simply “Tostitos.” These buzzwords prime us to bias our evaluations.

It turns out that reading the nutritional label may not always help us make the best selection.  When subjects were asked to compare the nutrition facts for Spam vs. salmon, approximately 20% of the subjects actually picked Spam over salmon as the healthier option.   Another example was carrots vs. potato chips:  11% of participants picked potato chips as healthier after viewing each of the respective nutritional label. 

The confusion surrounding nutritional label combined with the bias from buzzwords, create a vulnerability in the way we make our food choices.  How to patch against this problem?  A great place to start would be to learn the nutritional label well and compare the product to the real foods itself (ie. potato chips vs. potatoes or strawberry-infused candies vs. strawberries). 

See the study here

Learn more about nutrition facts label here