A side of il­logic

Los Angeles Times - - Health - Jeannine Stein

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.


Bob Cham­ber­lin

Paired with salad, this burger might be seen as lower calo­rie.

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