Are Hard Foods Healthier? In Your Mind, Maybe

New research shows that texture plays a large role in how we see the nutritional value of food

Manuela Larissegger/Corbis

The texture of food—an incredibly important component of how you enjoy it—might affect more than just your palate. According to new research, the oral haptics or "mouthfeel" of a dish can influence how we perceive its nutritional value. 

The researchers conducted tests asking participants to eat different foods and estimate how many calories they thought the food had. In other studies, their research subjects were given either soft or hard brownies while evaluating ads.

Left to their own devices, the subjects with soft brownies chowed down. But when they were asked to think about calorie content of the brownies (which, can we all agree, is a really mean thing to do to people who you’ve just given brownies to?), the participants given the hard brownies ate more.

The researchers concluded that harder foods tend to be seen as healthier. Co.Design points out that there is a reason for these associations: 

As the researchers note, foods that are high in fat or calories (ice-cream, butter, cream cheese) do tend to be smoother, softer, and creamier than, say, raw vegetables and cereals, which tend to be crunchy and which generate more friction during chewing. They also tend to be lower in calories, and, more significantly, we think they're healthier. Over time, those hard-is-healthy associations get reinforced.

The researchers, all marketing experts, concluded that by emphasizing texture, companies could draw more customers to healthy food products. (Or, sneaky companies could pack calories into crunchy food and pretend they're "healthy.")

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