An Appetite for "Healthy"

New research out of Cornell reveals how much of what we eat is triggered by our brain, by our ability to sense and feel "full" or satisfied.  Leave it to Brian Wansink and his team at the Cornell Food and Brand Lab to detect how our bodies signal for us to eat more if a food is labeled as "healthy."  Published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, the team of researchers examined how foods labeled as healthy tend to be synonymous with "less filling," causing us to overeat.

Here's more on the study itself:

"The first study was conducted with 50 undergraduate students at a large public university and employed the well-established Implicit Association Test to provide evidence for an inverse relationship between the concepts of healthy and filling.

The second study was a field study conducted with 40 graduate students at a large public university and measured participants’ hunger levels after consuming a cookie that is either portrayed as healthy or unhealthy to test the effect of health portrayals on experienced hunger levels.

The third study was conducted with 72 undergraduate students in a realistic scenario to measure the impact of health portrayals on the amount of food ordered before watching a short film and the actual amount of food consumed during the film. The set of three studies converges on the idea that consumers hold an implicit belief that healthy foods are less filling than unhealthy foods."

The main finding? "When a food is portrayed as healthy, as opposed to unhealthy, consumers report lower hunger levels after consumption, order greater portion sizes of the food, and consume greater amounts of the food." 

One solution, the researchers point out, is to highlight the nourishing or wholesome aspects of food, rather than their healthfulness.  This, they contend, reverses our overeating tendencies associated with healthy foods.  And as FoodNavigator points out,  it isn't all bad news for food companies seeking to capitalize on consumer demand for nutritious food options.  Perhaps when someone is more satisfied, and for longer, brand loyalty (and willingness to pay a pretty penny for a specific food) actually increases.

Next time you're perusing food and beverage options, take note of the healthy labels and whether it may have an effect on your consumption.