Here’s a simple math question for you: Which has more calories?
A) A bowl of chili with cheese
B) A bowl of chili with cheese + a small green side salad
The correct answer, of course, is B. But a new study from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management finds that when people are shown an indulgent item paired with a healthier item, they tend to estimate the combo to have fewer the calories than the indulgent item alone.
Volunteers shown the cheese-topped chili alone guessed it had 699 calories, but those who saw the chili with a side salad estimated the overall meal had 656 calories. It was the same case with other indulgent/healthy food pairs. The study’s author, Alexander Chernev, calls this the “negative-calorie illusion,” meaning people think healthy foods somehow subtract calories from indulgent fare. That, he suggests, can have serious public-health consequences.
“Because people believe that adding a healthy option can lower a meal’s caloric content, the negative-calorie illusion can lead to overconsumption, thus contributing to the obesity trend,” says Chernev.
Among the study’s volunteers, dieters were twice as likely as others to fall for the negative-calorie illusion, which Chernev dubs the “dieter’s paradox.”
That’s why Mindful Meals and Sound Nutrition are among our core topics at NOURISH Evolution. If you really understand your food and pay attention to what you eat, you won’t fall for the dieter’s paradox. In fact, this seems like a good time to revisit Cheryl’s piece, “Making Sense of Moderation” (along with her awesome recipe for Mini Dark Chocolate Puddings with Chocolate Shavings!).
In the meantime, remember, a side salad adds more calories to that cheeseburger. Maybe not as many as a side of fries but, still, more.