Increasing Familiarity is the Best Way to Avoid Ingredient-Based Food Fear
Brian Wansink, Aner Tal, and Adam Brumberg (2014). Ingredient-Based Food Fears and Avoidance: Antecedents and Antidotes. Food Quality and Preference, 38, 40-48. doi:10.1016/j.foodqual.2014.05.015
Daily headlines on internet pages and blogs claim: “New ingredient X is harmful to your health.” Such warnings can scare people into avoiding these ingredients without actually knowing the facts, leading some people to have food fears about ingredients such as sugar, fat, sodium, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), mono sodium glutamate (MSG), and others. While some of these food fears are merited, others can be misleading.
A new Cornell University study published in Food Quality and Preference, investigated who might be most prone to food fears, why, and what can they do to correct misperceptions. The phone survey of 1008 US mothers investigated what they thought about the food ingredient HFCS. When comparing those who avoided HFCS with those who did not, the study uncovered three key findings about avoiders: 1) They were more likely to receive their information from the internet rather than TV, 2) they had a desire to have their food related choices known by their friends or reference groups, and 3) they were not willing to pay more for foods that instead contained regular table sugar when compared to peers who did not avoid HFCS.
Researchers found that giving consumers more information about the ingredient such as its history can be effective in reducing ingredient fears. To arrive at this conclusion they asked participants to rate the healthfulness of Stevia, a natural sweetener. Half of the participants were given historical and contextual information to read about the product and the remaining participants were not given anything to read. Those who received information about an ingredient’s history rated the product as healthier than those who did not. Lead author Brian Wansink recommends, "To overcome food ingredient fears, learn the science, history, and the process of how the ingredient is made, and you’ll be a smarter, savvier consumer.”
Article Summary by Brian Wansink
Dispelling Myths about a New Healthful Food can be More Motivating than Promoting Nutritional Benefits: The Case of Tofu— Eating Behaviors, 2014
You taste what you see: Do organic labels bias taste perceptions?—Food Quality and Preference, 2013
Position of the American Dietetic Association: Food and Nutrition Misinformation— Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2006
Increasing the Acceptance of Soy–Based Foods— Journal of International Food and Agribusiness Marketing, 2005
Content Editor: Sandra Cuellar-Healey
and Katherine Baildon
Design, Maintenance: Nadia A. Streletskaya