Dieters are so involved with trying to eat healthy food that they are more likely than non-dieters to choose unhealthy foods that are labelled as healthy, a new research has found.
It seems dieter focus on food names can work to their disadvantage.
"Keeping your weight-loss goal in mind as you scan the lunch menu at a cafe, you are careful to avoid pasta selections and instead order from the list of salad options," said authors Caglar Irmak (University of South Carolina), Beth Vallen (Loyola University), and Stefanie Rosen Robinson (University of South Carolina).
These days, restaurant salads can include ingredients that dieters would be likely to avoid (meats, cheeses, breads, and pasta). Potato chips are labeled "veggie chips," milkshakes are called "smoothies," and sugary drinks are named "flavored water."
"Over time, dieters learn to focus on simply avoiding foods that they recognize as forbidden based on product name," said the authors.
"Thus, dieters likely assume that an item assigned an unhealthy name (for example, pasta) is less healthy than an item assigned a healthy name (for example, salad), and they do not spend time considering other product information that might impact their product evaluations," added the authors.
Non-dieters do not learn to avoid foods based on names and, given that they are not focused on healthful eating, are more likely to dismiss cues that imply healthfulness, including name.
Participants in one study were presented with a mixture of vegetables, pasta, salami, and cheese, served on a bed of fresh romaine lettuce. The item was either identified as "salad" or "pasta." When it was called pasta, dieters perceived it as less healthy. In another study, participants were given samples of a product, which was 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," added the authors.
As a result, dieters consumed more of the confections when they were called "fruit chews."
The study has been published in the Journal of Consumer Research.