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Go Ahead, Order the McNuggets

October 5, 2007

It turns out people are not good at guessing how many calories are in food, and actually eat more calories at “healthy” restaurants than at “unhealthy” ones (think Subway and McDonald’s, respectively). In a recent study,

consumers guess[ed] how many calories are in sandwiches from two restaurants. They estimated that sandwiches contain 35% fewer calories when they come from restaurants claiming to be healthy than when they are from restaurants not making this claim.

The result of this calorie underestimation? Consumers then chose beverages, side dishes, and desserts containing up to 131% more calories when the main course was positioned as “healthy” compared to when it was not–even though, in the study, the “healthy” main course already contained 50% more calories than the “unhealthy” one.

In other words, people believe that since they are eating a “healthy” sandwich, it’s okay to have the 42 oz. soft drink, bag of chips, and cookie. And they don’t mention it in the article, but I would bet that that “I’ve eaten something healthy today” mindset carries throughout the day, and people “reward” themselves to a more indulgent dinner than they would have otherwise eaten.

The authors suggest that people think about food quantitatively (how many calories am I eating?) instead of qualitatively (is this “good” or “bad” food?), but that sort of takes all the fun out of eating if you ask me.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. K-Diggity permalink*
    October 5, 2007 4:22 pm

    If you ever watch what most people eat, they just cram shit down their gullets with reckless abandon. The average fast food meal is probably nearing 1000 calories all on its own. Then consider the fact that a lot of people drink non-diet pop with that and you’re pushing 1300 or more.

    A box of mac & cheese is something like 1200 calories after the butter/milk. And it’s not even that much food.

  2. Ashley permalink
    October 5, 2007 5:48 pm

    We all succomb to this kind of unconcious guilt.

    Think about it this way: You wake up on a Saturday morning with a massive hangover and you feel like shit. What’s the first thing that usually comes out of your mouth as you stumble towards the bathroom? “Ohhh, I really shouldn’t have had that McDonald’s [that you picked up on your drunken walk home].”

    Yes… right on. It was the McDonald’s you should feel guilty about. That $5.49 1,300 calorie meal that soaked up all that Yager in your stomach allowing you to ‘sleep’ somewhat soundly was waaaay worse than the $45 worth of hard liquor and beer you threw back at the bar coming in at a mere $2,000 calories.

  3. Adam permalink*
    October 5, 2007 5:55 pm

    Usually, my post-drinking McDonald’s regret is that I went there unarmed.

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