Dieters are more drawn to such words in labels as healthy than non-dieters, which would be OK if all labels were super honest, unfortunately a considerable number are misleading and dieters often end up eating the complete opposite – unhealthy foods, according to an article published in The Journal of Consumer Research.

A fat and calorie laden milkshake that is called a fruit smoothie is more likely to fool a dieter, because of its healthy-sounding name, than a non-dieter who has a better chance of checking its nutritional content before deciding whether to consume it.

Dieters progressively make automatic assumptions when selecting the foods they eat, creating a mental list of items they should avoid. For example, those trying to avoid high carbohydrate intake will avoid pasta, regarding that as less healthy than salad, scientists from the University of South Carolina explained.

People who are not on a diet are less concerned about the names given to foods when considering what to consume, and will probably ignore subtle written cues that indicate wholesome and healthy nutritional foods, including the product’s name.

The researchers carried out two tests:

  • Test 1 – 66 passers-by in the street where asked to identify a new item on a menu. The target item read “onions and red peppers tossed with pasta shells, diced tomatoes, salami, mozzarella cheese, dressed with a savory herb vinaigrette. Served chilled on a bed of fresh romaine lettuce.”

    The investigators randomly described the menu item as a salad dish to half the passers-by and a pasta dish to the other half. When hearing the term pasta, those who were on a diet viewed the dish as less healthy than when it was described as a salad.

  • The menu item, regardless of whether it was termed a salad or pasta was identical in both cases and had 900 calories and 60 grams of fat.

  • Test 2 – 142 college students were randomly given a chewable product (Jelly Belly candies) called either candy chews or fruit chews – both products were identical.

    Those on a diet perceived candy chews as less healthy than fruit chews. More fruit chews were consumed by dieters when hearing fruit chews than candy chews, even though both products were the same. Non-dieters were much less influenced by the product’s name.

What happens when potato chips are marketed as veggie chips, milk shakes as smoothies, and sugar-laden drinks as flavored water, the authors asked. The result could be a great deal of confusion, and possibly the consumption of unhealthy foods by the very people who are making an effort to adopt a healthy lifestyle.

Dieters tend to have certain taboo food names, which usually include:

  • Ice-cream
  • Pasta
  • Potato chips
  • Candy

Dieters tend to take negative rather than positive steps – they will make an effort to avoid foods they perceive as unhealthy, rather than seeking out good foods.

Dieters need to focus more on what really matters – what’s in the meal, what its ingredients are. They should completely ignore the marketing hype. Focusing their shopping on fresh fruit and vegetables is probably the best step dieters can take towards achieving their target of ideal bodyweight and a healthy lifestyle.

Put simply – dieters are more drawn by marketing hype, while non-dieters tend to focus more on the food’s nutritional content.

“The Impact of Product Name on Dieters’ Non-Dieters’ Food Evaluations and Consumption”
Caglar Irmak, Beth Vallen, Stefanie Rosen Robinson
The Journal of Consumer Research – p. 000

Written by Christian Nordqvist