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Food names can mislead dieters: What's in your salad

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Food names misleading

Foods that are fattening can mislead dieters just by their name, say investigators writing in the Journal of Consumer Research. Avoiding pasta at lunch in lieu of a salad may not always be the healthiest choice. Just because it’s named a salad doesn’t mean it’s healthy or fat free.

What’s in your salad anyway?
Caglar Irmak (University of South Carolina), Beth Vallen (Loyola University), and Stefanie Rosen Robinson (University of South Carolina) explain congratulations for sticking to a diet may be premature – especially is you’re eating salad with extras like cheese, meat, pasta or croutons that many restaurants label as healthy.

The authors explain it’s easy to be misled when dieting, because consumers trying to lose weight focus on food names – something that happens over time.

Choosing a salad over pasta becomes automatic for many, with no consideration for other product information. It’s easier to recognize “forbidden” food. A product named “salad” draws dieters who assume the choice is a healthy one.

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The researchers tested their theory in a group of study participants given a mixture of vegetables, pasta, salami, and cheese, served on a bed of fresh romaine lettuce. One group was told they were being given pasta, and the other a salad, but the dishes were identical.

Most of the participants perceived the “pasta” as unhealthy, compared to when it was identified as a salad.

In another study, participants were given products labeled either “fruit chews” or “candy chews”. "Dieters perceived the item with an unhealthy name (candy chews) to be less healthful and less tasty than non-dieters," the authors write. As a result, dieters consumed more of the confections when they were called "fruit chews."

Dieters should pay attention to other food in salads, smoothies and water with sugar, labeled “flavored water”. Some foods that seem healthy and good for dieters are misleading. A salad may not be a good choice if it has meat, cheese, pasta or crouton.

Journal of Consumer Research

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Josh Truelson