Diet & Nutrition

Hidden Food Traps and How to Avoid Them

Despite your best intentions, food marketing can trick you into making choices that aren’t as healthy as you think. But it is possible to avoid these food traps.

Despite your best intentions, food marketing can trick you into making choices that aren’t as healthy as you think. But it is possible to avoid these food traps.

For example, when shown pretty, flawless bell peppers and ugly ones, people mistakenly thought the pretty ones were healthier, and were willing to pay 56 percent more for them. Reactions to thousands of food images, comparing foods with identical ingredients presented in more and less attractive ways, consistently showed the same type of reaction among both women and men. “Consumers expect food to be more nutritious, less fatty, and to contain fewer calories when it looks pretty,” says study author Linda Hagen, PhD.

It’s something to think about the next time you see a fast-food ad. And if you want to make healthy food more appealing, an attractive presentation can help.

Junk Food Can Be Plant-Based

Although plant-based diets enhance health, foods that contain only plant ingredients aren’t always healthy. Sugar and refined grains are plant-based ingredients in many junk foods, for example—and they aren’t nutritious.

In Greece, a 10-year study of 2,000 people found that plant-based diets focused on refined grains, sugary and high-starch foods, and juices rather than whole fruits did not improve heart health. What does work is a diet of whole plant foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and unrefined plant oils.

Unhealthy Foods Reduce Healthy Diet Benefits

After you eat a meal that you know is nutritious, it may be tempting to think that it’s okay to indulge in something that’s unhealthy, whether it’s a sugary dessert or a junk-food snack later in the day. But it doesn’t really work that way.

In Chicago, researchers tracked the diets of 5,001 older people for nearly 20 years. They concluded that following a Mediterranean diet, with the least amount of added refined and processed foods, slowed mental decline by about 6 years. The same type of diet reduces heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

“A diet that emphasizes vegetables, fruit, fish, and whole grains may positively affect a person’s health,” says study coauthor Puja Agarwal, PhD. “But when it is combined with fried food, sweets, refined grains, red meat, and processed meat, the benefits of eating the Mediterranean part of the diet seem to be diminished.” Exploring different ways of preparing dishes with whole, unrefined ingredients can make it easier to consistently eat and enjoy a healthy diet.

Why Unhealthy Food Is So Popular

We’re constantly bombarded with media messages that tell us to consume unhealthy foods and drinks.

  • We see nearly 7,000 ads for food and restaurants per year—about 19 per day. Three-quarters of these promote fast food.
  • In 250 top American movies released between 1994 and 2018, 73 percent of the food and 90 percent of the drinks depicted were unhealthy.