I think we all know that on some level the food industry is manipulating our subconscious to get us to buy their stuff. I’m sure they would deny it but, in reality, the goal of any business is to get you to buy their goods or services. The businesses that can get you to do this most effectively will be the most successful. The food manufactureres are most successful when they make the food taste better (which usually leads to the food being less healthy) or to manipulate the marketing (either in the packaging or advertising).
I was struck recently by the depth at which we can be and are manipulated subconsciously recently when I came across research from a Stanford nutrition scientist named Christopher Gardner who showed the extent to which labeling can impact our food selection choices.
Gardner used the school cafeteria at Stanford and adjusted the labels of vegetable dishes to see how this impacted food choice. Students were given cooked vegetables with different labels each day and they measured how much was consumed. As an example, one day carrots were labeled as plain carrots, one day as low sodium, and one day as high fiber. Then on a fourth day they were labeled “twisted glazed carrots”, a label that certainly sounds better. In reality twisted glazed carrots would probably be subconsciously expected to have more sugar and be less healthy but in Gardner’s experiments, the carrots (and all other vegetables in the experiment) were exactly the same each day.
What he found was that the students took 25% more carrots on the twisted glazed day than the other days. The results were similar with other vegetables as well. Labeling something to sound more delicious will impact our choices. Remember that Gardner’s subjects were elite, uber intelligent Stanford students who are certainly at least as informed (if not more) than the average American yet they took the bad option anyway.
The reason for this is that our food choice is driven in large part by a subconscious reflex that has nothing to do with intelligence. It is a frailty in our wiring that the food industry is all too happy to take advantage of. The industry will often advertise in bold dramatic fonts that they are low in salt, fat, or sugar but while they have lowered one of the three they usually have secretly increased something else that offsets the benefits. This is one way the food industry has manipulated the false beliefs about fat and cholesterol of the past several decades all the while increasing the carbohydrate content in our food. This change above all may account for the obesity epidemic more than any thing else.
The only hope you have is to educate yourself as much as possible and try to be aware of the ways the marketing and packaging of foods may be influencing you. One great trick is to plan your meals, make a shopping list, and stick to it. If you are making your decisions of what to eat and buy when your reptile brain is not being bombarded with subliminal messages you stand a chance. At the very least, when you make a food choice, be aware that there are very strong subconscious influences driving your decision. The more you can become aware of these the better chance you have.