Don’t Judge Food Healthfulness by Texture

There’s no accounting for individual taste, especially when it comes to experiencing food flavors. But in the case of textures, a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research suggests that test subjects mistakenly believe that harder or more roughly textured foods have fewer calories.

Study authors looked at the link between how a food feels in your mouth and the amount we eat, the types of food we choose, and how many calories we think we are consuming. A press release from the journal indicates that in five laboratory studies, researchers asked participants to sample foods that were hard, soft, rough or smooth and then measured calorie estimations for the food.

In one study, participants were asked to watch and evaluate a series of television ads. While the ads were airing, cups filled with bite-sized brownie bits were provided to participants as tokens of appreciation for their time. Half of the subjects were not asked anything about the brownies, and the other half were asked a question about calorie content. Within each of these groups, half of the participants received brownie bits that were soft and the other half received brownie bits that were hard.

When subjects were not made to focus on calorie content, they consumed a higher volume of brownies when they were soft (vs. hard). In contrast, when made to focus on the calorie content, participants consumed a higher volume of hard brownies (vs. soft).

Bottom line? Be aware of ingredients and calorie counts. While brands interested in promoting the health benefits of their products can emphasize texture as well as draw attention to low-calorie foods, other brands may use texture to give a halo effect to a product that may not be very healthy.

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