Apparently, 3 out of 10 people guessed Spam. Before you scoff, know that you could have been one of those 3 people if, instead of seeing the package, you would have only been allowed to view the nutrition facts panel.
In an interesting study conducted at the University of Houston, 300 college students were shown sets of 2 nutrition labels and had to specify which of the two products in each set was healthier. When shown the nutrition labels of Coke vs. Orange Juice, 9 in 10 made the correct choice. Same for carrots vs. potato chips.
When comparing Raisin Bran to Frosted Flakes, over half the respondents thought that sugary Frosted Flakes were healthier! The reason for the mistakes is the multiple data points a consumer is required to process in order to assess the nutrition of one product relative to another. Frosted Flakes is lower in calories compared to Raisin Bran, but that’s because the serving size is much smaller (half by weight). Raisin bran has more sugar, but most of the sugar in Raisin Bran is from raisins, not added sugar.
The study was conducted by Dr. Temple Northup, an Assistant Professor at the School of Communication, University of Houston, whose goal is to “further discussion about the way food is marketed to consumers and how this may be contributing to their consumption of unhealthy foods.”
In another part of the study, Northup shows how consumers are “primed” by key words that appear on packaging: Organic, All Natural, and Whole Grain, for example. Students were divided into 2 groups and randomly shown a product package. In group A, the product had a descriptor that the manufacturer selected. In group B, Northup Photoshopped the descriptor out. In the applesauce example below, 72.5% considered it healthy when shown the version labeled “organic”, compared to 59.5% when “organic” was omitted.
What can we take away from this study? Never, ever rely on health claims and buzzwords on the front of a packaged product. Learn to read ingredient lists and nutrition labels, so you’ll be able to make the right decision. If you need help, the Fooducate app can analyze over 200,000 foods for you. Download the Fooducate app for free! (iPhone, Android)