Healthy Foods = Less Filling?

People with diabetes are often urged to incorporate healthier foods into their diet — foods that, it may turn out, are less filling than some of the unhealthy foods they’re intended to replace. This may, in turn, lead people to eat greater amounts of “healthy” foods, undermining some of the reasons for switching to them in the first place. But are healthier foods inherently less filling, or might they make us feel less full because we know they’re healthy? A recent study takes a look at this question.

Published earlier this month in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, the study tested participants’ perception of how filling foods were in two different ways. As described in a HealthDay article on the study, the first part of the study involved giving participants (40 graduate students) a cookie that was described as either healthy or unhealthy. Forty-five minutes after eating the cookie, those who were given a “healthy” cookie reported feeling hungrier than those who were given an “unhealthy” cookie — even though both types of cookie were actually the same.


In the second part of the study, participants (70 college students) were offered popcorn that was described as either healthy, unhealthy, or nourishing. They were told to order as much popcorn as they thought they’d need to feel satisfied until their next meal — anywhere from 1 to 10 cups of popcorn. Participants ordered more popcorn, and ate more of it, when it was described as healthy — even though, again, the popcorn in each category was exactly the same. Participants who were offered “nourishing” popcorn ordered and ate less of it than those who were offered “healthy” popcorn, but more than those who were offered “unhealthy” popcorn. As the study authors note, this result indicates that labeling a healthy food as “nourishing” may lead people to eat less of it than if it’s simply labeled as “healthy.”

Perhaps surprisingly, even participants who indicated in a questionnaire that they didn’t believe healthy foods are less filling, ordered more popcorn if they were assigned to the “healthy” or “nourishing” popcorn option than if they were assigned to the “unhealthy” option. This result indicated that even if we think we believe healthy foods can be just as filling as unhealthy ones, we may subconsciously believe they won’t be as filling — and eat more of them as a result.

What’s your reaction to this study — do you think you might have a bias against healthy food being filling and satisfying? Have you found any effective way, in the real world, to increase the likelihood that you’ll find a food filling, and eat less of it? Are there certain “healthy” foods that you find more filling than others, allowing you to eat less overall? Do you think being told that a food is both healthy and filling might help you feel satisfied after eating it, despite it being healthy? Do you think cookies or popcorn — or college or graduate students — might be bad test cases for whether a food is perceived as filling? Leave a comment below!