Quick: which is healthier, salad or pasta? If you're dieting, chances are you said salad, according to a new study on how dieters make snap judgments based on food names rather than ingredients.
The study's researchers asked a group of dieters and nondieters to pick which of two meals they'd rather eat, pasta or salad, based on ingredient lists and photos. The catch was that both meals not only contained the same ingredients (including lettuce, tomatoes, pasta shells, cheese, and vinaigrette), but they were the exact same dish containing 900 calories and 60 grams of fat.
The dieters rated the dish as much more unhealthy when it was called pasta than nondieters did, and both groups rated it healthier when it was called salad. The researchers say this shows that most dieters simply avoid a list of forbidden foods like pasta and ice cream rather than eat more foods that are good for them or look at the actual ingredients in a meal.
Snap judgment in the real world can lead to us making decisions that we think are healthy that actually are not, like buying "veggie chips" at the grocery store or eating more of a supposedly healthy food (in another part of the study, participants who were given jelly beans branded as either "fruit chews" or "candy chews" ate more of them when they were called the healthier-sounding option).
All of these results are a good reminder that checking ingredients and stocking up on fresh fruit and vegetables are better dieting strategies than blindly following a list of what you can and can't eat, especially in this age of misleading packaging and marketing.