Dieters are more likely than non-dieters to be misled by food names, a new study says. For example, dieters rated food items with names such as "salad" as being healthier than identical products with names such as "pasta," while non-dieters made no such distinctions.
Dieters also believed that sweets labelled "fruit chew" was healthier than the same sweets when it was labelled "candy chew," and ate more of the sweets when it was called fruit chews, said the University of South Carolina researchers.
Non-dieters eat 'healthier'
"The fact that people's perceptions of healthfulness vary with the name of the food item isn't surprising. What is interesting is that dieters, who try to eat healthy and care about what they eat, fell into these 'naming traps' more than non-dieters who really don't care about healthy eating," study author Caglar Irmak, an assistant professor of marketing, said.
The findings from the study of more than 520 people suggest that dieters rely on food names to identify supposedly healthy foods, Irmak explained. Instead, dieters need to focus on reading nutritional information on food products and restaurant menus.
"These results should give dieters pause. The study shows that dieters base their food decisions on the name of the food item instead of the ingredients of the item. As a result, they may eat more than what their dieting goals prescribe," Irmak said.
The study appears in the August issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.