A side of illogic
One of the laws of dieting we’ve long subscribed to is the canceling-out theory: If you eat a salad with a piece of cheesecake, their calories cancel each other out. We’re joking, of course. But a new study finds that some people actually think there’s something to this, even if they’re not completely aware of it.
Researchers presented 934 participants with various food pairings and asked them to estimate their caloric content. “Vice” foods (think cheeseburgers and cheesecake) were sometimes paired with other “vice” foods like cake, sometimes with “virtue” foods such as salads, and sometimes with foods that were a mixture of virtue and vice, like low-fat cheesecake.
In one scenario, study volunteers were shown a bowl of chili with cheese or a bowl of chili with cheese with a small salad. Those who saw the chili alone estimated the calories at an average of 699; the chili with the salad was estimated at 656 calories.
“Because people believe that adding a healthy option can lower a meal’s calorie content, the negative calorie illusion can lead to overconsumption, thus contributing to the obesity trend,” study author Alexander Chernev said in a statement. Chernev is an associate professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
The study also found that volunteers who were dieting were more likely to fall prey to this misperception. They knocked twice as many calories off of “vice” foods, on average, compared with non-dieters. The study will appear in the April 2011 issue of the Journal of Consumer Psychology. For more oddities, musings and news from the health world, check out the Booster Shots blog at www.latimes.com/health/boostershots.
LOOKS FAT:Bob Chamberlin
Paired with salad, this burger might be seen as lower calorie.