Though it’s unlikely that someone can be “too healthy,” it’s definitely possible to have “too much of a good thing” – even if that good thing is healthy food. And now, new research shows labeling food as “healthy” might actually be bad for us because subconsciously it’s giving people the green light to overeat.
A study published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research conducted three different experiments, all of which proved that people inherently associate “healthy” foods with being less filling, even if they claimed they didn’t have this bias beforehand. For instance, one experiment looked at participants’ hunger levels after eating two cookies that were identical outside of one being labeled as “healthy.” Subjects reported being hungrier after eating the supposedly healthier cookie.
According to the authors, their report provides “evidence that people order greater quantities of food, consume more of it, and are less full after consuming a food portrayed as more versus less healthy.” The effect is that, regardless of whether these foods are actually any healthier, those benefits are mitigated by the role these “healthy” foods can play in weight gain, which in itself is unhealthy. “The findings suggest that the recent proliferation of healthy food labels may be ironically contributing to the obesity epidemic rather than reducing it,” the study says.
Granted, things could be worse. No one’s out there freebasing carrots and overdosing on beta-carotene. Still, it’s a reminder that “healthy” choices are all relative. Going for a jog isn’t healthy if your route sends you running off a cliff. Which, by the way, now gives you an excuse not to jog.