Foods Labeled “Low-Calorie” May Make You Indulge More

Food labels can influence how we feel about what we’re eating. Research shows that how full we feel after eating a particular item has quite a lot to do with the label. For example, we may feel more full after eating a smaller quantity of something  considered high-calorie. In a recent study, researchers put this to the test by measuring levels of ghrelin, a hormone that’s produced in the stomach when the body’s energy level is low. Ghrelin acts on the brain and induces hunger pangs in order to motivate us to eat. The researchers found when we eat unhealthy snacks, we feel more full than when we eat even more of a lighter and healthier food. Which in turn means we eat more of something healthier.

On two separate occasions, the 46 participants consumed a 380-calorie milkshake believing it was either a 620-calorie “indulgent” shake or a 140-calorie “sensible” shake. Blood levels of ghrelin were measured intravenously at baseline (20 minutes), anticipatory (60 minutes), and post-consumption (90 minutes). Participants were asked to view and rate the label during the first 60 minutes and to drink and rate the shake itself between 60 and 90 minutes.

When under the pretense they were drinking the “indulgent” shake, participants experienced a steeper decline in ghrelin than they did drinking the “sensible” shake. Participants felt more full when they thought they were drinking a high-calorie shake.

The psychological effects of food labels can impact how satisfied we feel after eating, so keep that in mind next time you find yourself faced with an item whose label boasts how healthy it is.  You might find yourself reaching for more helpings than you need.

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