Taste Trumps Health in Food Choices?

Anyone who makes a living selling food (or cooks for the family) already know this – the key drivers of deciding what to eat are taste, cost and convenience  (I often joke that for most people, health is number 27 on the list).

Thus, I was not really surprised to see the results of a recent paper by Suzanne Forwood and colleagues from the University of Cambridge, UK, published in PLoS One that examined what would make participants choose an apple over a chocolate bar.

The study involved 439 participants randomly allocated to one of five groups that varied in the label added to an apple (apple; healthy apple; succulent apple; healthy and succulent apple; succulent and healthy apple).

They also measured how the participants perceived the qualities of the apple (taste, health, value, quality, satiety) and assessed other participant characteristics (restraint, belief that tasty foods are unhealthy, BMI).

When compared with apple selection without any descriptor (50%), the labels combining both health and taste descriptors significantly increased selection of the apple (‘healthy & succulent’ 65.9% and ‘succulent & healthy’ 62.4%).

In contrast, simply calling the apple “healthy” or “succulent” was no different from not adding any descriptor at all.

Also no surprise that the strongest predictors of individual dessert choice were the taste score given to the apple, and the lack of belief that healthy foods are not tasty.

As the authors conclude,

“Interventions that emphasize the taste attributes of healthier foods are likely to be more effective at achieving healthier diets than those emphasizing health alone.”

In other words, don’t bother telling me how healthy a food is, just make it taste better .

Thus, it’s probably not that surprising that the bazillion dollars spent in public health and elsewhere on telling us how healthy this or the other food may be (or just how unhealthy some of the stuff we eat actually is) – seems to have so little impact.

Perhaps, this money is better spent on actually making healthy stuff taste better (or at least convincing me that it does).

So here’s a challenge to my readers: name one food that cannot be made to taste better by adding more sugar, salt and/or fat (my personal solution is – just add hot sauce!).

Edmonton, AB

p.s. Happy Halloween!

Photo by Massdistraction

ResearchBlogging.orgForwood SE, Walker AD, Hollands GJ, & Marteau TM (2013). Choosing between an Apple and a Chocolate Bar: the Impact of Health and Taste Labels. PloS one, 8 (10) PMID: 24155964