Food Texture May Influence Your Perception of Healthiness, Study Finds

healthyfoodIf you had to guess, which food has more calories in it: a plate of crisp, crunchy celery pieces or a batch of soggy french fries? Obviously, the fries are loaded with fat and deep-fried in oil, which makes them far less nutritious (and far worse for your waistline) than the fresh veggies. But can you tell that just based on the texture of the foods alone?

A new study published by the Journal of Consumer Research says consumers can — or at least they think they can.

The research found that smooth foods that require much less effort in chewing, like an order of soggy french fries, are often found by consumers to be far more caloric than rough foods like celery and carrots. This general perception inside the mouth, often referred to as “oral haptics” or “mouthfeel,” is so powerful that it might even influence how much of a particular food we eat in one sitting.

Scientists from the University of South Florida, the University of Michigan and Columbia University compiled data from a number of experiments in order to arrive at their conclusion. One of the setups involved two groups of test subjects watching television ads and eating brownies. The first group’s brownies were soft and the second’s were hard-textured.

Some were told to focus on the calorie content of the brownies while others were not. The group eating the hard-textured brownies ate more of them when they were told specifically to focus on the number of calories in the food. The first group, however, ate more soft brownies but only when they were told not to worry about counting calories. This likely means that the group consuming the hard-textured brownies actually believed that what they were eating was a bit healthier than it actually was — an assumption that could be based on the snack’s feel inside the participants’ mouths.

“Understanding how the texture of food can influence calorie perceptions, food choice, and consumption amount can help nudge consumers toward making healthier choices,” the study says.

Of course, not all hard foods are low in calories just like not all soft foods are high in calories, as points out. But this latest study might be enough to help us realize that our mouths might be helping to influence our decisions for us, and often they’re swinging our judgment in the wrong direction. Healthy living, as we well know, starts with making the right decisions, especially when it comes to weight loss.

“People choose different textures of food based on emotions,” explains Beth Golden, PhD, ND of Weight Loss Products, Inc. “Some may choose warm soft things that help soothe the body, like mashed potatoes. Crunchy foods often have to deal with anger and other similar feelings. Perhaps more research will shed light on this in the future.”

Ice cream and yogurt are both soft foods, yet one is far more nutritionally sound than the other. Fresh carrots make a crisp cracking noise when you bite them, yet so do salty pretzels. The best way to find out what’s high in calories and what’s not? Read the labels. Your waistline will thank you later.