“Just make healthy food choices,” diet gurus say. As if choosing to be well nourished and svelte were simple.
Brian Wansink, a Cornell professor and founder of Consumer Camp, studies food choices in Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab. An article in this month’s Stanford Magazine (“Mind Over Platter”) desribes some of his fascinating (and helpful) findings:
1) We eat more M&M’s when they’re sorted by color.
2) We eat more nuts or candies from a jar when we can see through the jar than when it’s opaque.
3) We eat more popcorn if given a huge bucket than we do if given a medium-sized bucket. Same goes for plates.
4) We value food more when it comes with pleasant surprise, even a simple thing like a plastic toy. (Parents filling school lunchboxes, take note. Also anyone planning a dinner party. Airline dieticians – ignore this! We’d really rather have edible food!)
5) We prefer food with exotic, descriptive names – such as Bavarian Dark Forest Chocolate Cake – as opposed to chocolate cake. Same goes for Starbucks’ “grande chai soy latte” and infinite other variations on that theme.
The “takeaway” lesson? We’re not as “in control” as we might think we are. Our choices and perceptions are greatly influenced by the subconscious, which has its own ideas about what it likes and wants. Therefore, pay attention not only to food, but to how it’s prepared and served and described. And if you prefer not to eat a lot of popcorn, never buy the big bucket.