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Menu Labels and My Willpower

Friday, June 16, 2017

Sometimes when I am battling my willpower, I put all the blame on myself. But from today’s NPR SCIENCE FRIDAY radio show about food labeling, I realize why I have so much trouble with restaurant menus. Why it is important to look at menus before you sit down in the restaurant or to evaluate food packaging in the grocery store before you buy that box of cereal.

Whatever you do, don't label the healthy stuff as "healthy"—in food psychology, that's a "red light" for the restaurant patron (also for small children and husbands). ("If I wanted to be healthy I would have gone to the vegan place down the street!"). Menus at restaurants often use very simple, plain words on healthy items but use luscious words for high calorie items. Such as green beans with garlic, herbs & a cheese sauce topped with crispy shallots. Doesn’t that sound better than steamed vegetables, or even grilled veggies with jack cheese? But studies have shown label food with indulgent descriptions such as “Succulent Italian Seafood over crisp greens, rather than “seafood salad” and people chose more vegetables

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Which one are you more likely to choose when you are facing a menu and you are hungry?

Restaurants rarely use graphics, color highlights, and creative fonts to attract attention to healthy entrees, vegetables and whole grains. On the menu, we don't always notice the healthy stuff first—often our eyes jump directly toward colorful pictures of the pasta or burgers in the center of the menu. Also, look at the placement of the low calorie menu items, often on the bottom at the end of the regular section.

Unhealthy foods have a real flair for marketing with pictures, words and colors. Look at the boxes of cereal in the grocery store aisle. The expensive gluten free granola I buy has no pictures on the package but I buy it because it has the words GLUTEN FREE in large letters. Think of the pictures on the menus at Chili’s, Outback, or any other chain or local restaurant you may go to.

Healthy eating is not just calories in and calories out. It also includes mind over matter. If you don’t believe that healthy foods are exciting or indulgent you may not choose them. Especially true when words are boring describing healthy eating, like sugar free dressing, low calorie or skinny menu choices. So it is not just me lacking will power it is the power of marketing that weakens my willpower.

I have included the link to the NPR SCIENCE FRIDAY website at www.sciencefriday.com. You can listen to the segment. If you go to the article you can find the links to the studies.



(could not get the link to work on the blog)

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    I find there are very few restaurants worth going into if you want a healthy meal. It was very difficult driving across country from Virginia to Texas and eat healthy. It's frustrating and difficult especially if you need to be gluten free as well!
    1085 days ago
    Love the idea of "boring" descriptions. It's all of a piece with what I'm working towards - loving what I need, not loving what gets the sexy names.
    1109 days ago
    If you remove the S from the http, the link will work.

    Thanks for the good topic, definitely a vital thing to be mindful of when choosing our food.
    1149 days ago
    I love Science Friday--missed it this week, thank you for the link.

    I rarely read menus anymore--I pretty much know the "usual suspects" and order my protein selection and steamed vegetables a la carte. DH however, orders by the pictures.
    1149 days ago
    even at the healthy vegan restaurant down the street (my preference!) you have to be careful what you choose, for the same reasons. great blog!
    1150 days ago
    Thanks for the good information. Now that you have pointed it out, I realize how absolutely correct it is. I can picture menus for some of the restaurants we normally go to. I see the big burgers, thick steaks with the cheese or butter toppings and salads filled with bacon, cheese and croutons. I have researched menus online and have picked out things I would eat. The only problem with that is being in a rut ordering the same thing every time because there aren't a lot of healthy choices. The best solution for me is to not eat out very often.
    1150 days ago
    I love restaurants that now include caloric content on their menus - even if it's at the mall, I want to know the total calories before I make my choice! For example, I love Ivar's New England clam chowder. But at 690 calories for the small bowl? No thank you! I can have two fish tacos with coleslaw, no mayo, plus tortilla chips with fresh salsa (so two servings of vegs) for about 500 calories!

    I don't need an enticing description - I want numbers!
    1150 days ago
    If I see the Calorie count I will consider it. Being on Spark I have learned that I HAVE to check out the menu on-line! Just recently we went out for a birthday dinner, I remembered the last time I was there what my nephew ordered. I thought at the time that's what I will order next time. I did and that's what I am sticking to, it was an open face steak sandwich. I had a baked potato and veggies. What more could I ask for. It was delish! It was also not as many calories as I could have eaten!!
    Good blog!
    1150 days ago
  • 52BINCE
    Thanks for the heads up!
    1150 days ago
  • BJAEGER307
    Very informational. Labeling is confusing and so are menu items. Stick to the basics and know what you are eating before you order.

    Good advice.
    1150 days ago
  • GABY1948
    emoticon emoticon emoticon
    1150 days ago
  • BLUEJAY1969
    Thanks for sharing! Lots of good info there!
    1151 days ago
    What a great blog! There are no "vivid descriptions" on my giant bag of frozen mango chunks at the grocery store either . . . or anything in the produce department!!
    1151 days ago
  • THOMS1
    We don't go out to dinner very often, mostly for birthdays and just very special occasions and for retirees luncheons and breakfasts once a month but, before we do go we always look at the menu online. Before spark it was a different story. In the last 8 almost 9 years we have learned that we have to check out the menu first to avoid disaster on the scale the next morning. emoticon
    1151 days ago
    I hear you loud and clear when it comes to restaurant eating. I think even if you do pick something healthy on the menu it is still going to be loaded with calories because of all the butter and other stuff they put on the foods. You just have to be wise and choose the healthiest items you can and then don't worry about the rest. I think that is why going out to eat has to be something you do occasionally or it can ruin your maintenance. emoticon for sharing! Very informative emoticon emoticon !
    1151 days ago
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    1151 days ago
  • LYNCHD05
    It is really hard to go in a restaurant and order an good meal thst is not smothered in something. There are some p,aces I will just not go to as the menu is terrible. I like good "real" food.
    Great article....thanks for sharing!
    1151 days ago
    Oh My! What an eye opener and thanks for sharing!
    1151 days ago
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    1151 days ago
  • MARTHA324
    Will have to listen to Science Friday! This is very interesting and from personal experience, very true.
    1151 days ago
    1151 days ago
    This was really interesting - I'll listen to that segment later. It is VERY hard to make really perfect judgements - even with something as simple as apples - it depends how they're presented. I spend ages trying to choose between different plant milks or nut butters, and I always hesitate to buy the 'basic' ranges which have minimal packaging and no pictures - almost like I don't trust it because it doesn't 'look' good enough. We're easily manipulated.
    1151 days ago
    Had not thought about descriptions influencing selection. I tend to read it all but go with what I know and trust. Like that some places are now serving healthier grains.
    1151 days ago
  • RETAT60
    Interesting. Thanks for the link - I will copy and paste.
    1151 days ago
    I think all restaurants highlight the high calorie, high fat, high carb, high price part of the menu. I don't think the majority of people who eat out are looking for healthy food actually. They are indulging themselves. When I go to McDs I see very people eating salads and a lot of people eating Big Macs and fries.
    1151 days ago
    Healthy eating isn't cheap.
    1151 days ago
  • GEORGE815
    Restaurants are especially difficult to calorie track.
    1151 days ago
    I've also learned never to order a "healthy" entree in a place that specializes in "non healthy" dishes.
    They may serve you something, but it's ordered so rarely, it will be barely edible. If the group insists on such a place, I just don't go.
    1151 days ago
    1151 days ago
  • MWARNER211
    I agree. Who makes money off of healthy living? No one.. farmers maybe. Its unfortunate how difficult & expensive it has become to eat healthy.
    1151 days ago
    Never really thought about it but you are absolutely right! I will search a little harder for the "boring" stuff!
    1151 days ago
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