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Health Buzzwords on Food Labels are Misleading

Health Buzzwords on Food Labels are Misleading

RESEARCH HIGHLIGHT: Would you call Chocolate Cheerios healthy if it said "all natural" on the box?
Well, a recent study found that participants rated everything from Chocolate Cheerios, to soda and chips as more healthy, when the packaging contained buzzwords, such as:

"Heart Healthy" – Chocolate Cheerios

"Antioxidant" – Cherry 7-Up

"All Natural" – Tostitos

Try it for yourself

On a scale from 0 (unhealthy) to 100 (healthy)

Would you rate the following versions of apple sauce differently?


How we determine what is healthy, based on the box or container can be a tricky, often futile effort—and food marketers use healthy buzzwords to steer our decision. The psychology behind its effectiveness is rooted in priming us to think a certain way. If we see "all natural", our minds immediately and subconsciously are now primed to see that product in a natural, healthy way. It makes our decision easy and quick, with little mental effort.

Dr. Northup succintly describes this priming effect,

"Srull and Wyer (1979) gave participants four words (e.g., Sally, He, Hit, Kicked) and they were asked to use three of the words to complete a sentence (e.g., He Kicked Sally). Only violent sentences could be created from the words given. That act of creating violent sentences was sufficient to trigger the concept of violence in the participants’ minds. Later, participants were asked to evaluate an ambiguously described person or event. The participants who had created the violent sentences interpreted the target with increased hostility."


We need to think more when we shop for foods, and never depend on what the box, can, bag or jar tells us on the front of the packaging. We need to dig into the nutrition label, and come to the decision ourselves – not letting the food marketers and our subconscious brains make the decision for us.

This research, and others, have found that people have a general ignorance in understanding nutrition and food labels. Don't be one of them. Your homework is to learn more about food labeling:

  1. Eating healthier is cheaper than you think
  2. Nutrition Detectives – For ALL ages! (FREE)

nutrition-detectives brief

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