Increasing familiarity is the best way to avoid ingredient-based food fear

June 25, 2014 by Brian Wansink, Cornell Food & Brand Lab
This issue is free for non commercial use. Credit: Daniel Miller

Daily headlines on internet pages and blogs claim: "New ingredient X is harmful to your health." Such warnings can scare people into avoiding these ingredients without actually knowing the facts, leading some people to have food fears about ingredients such as sugar, fat, sodium, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), mono sodium glutamate (MSG), and others. While some of these food fears are merited, others can be misleading.

A new Cornell University study published in Food Quality and Preference, investigated who might be most prone to food fears, why, and what can they do to correct misperceptions. The of 1008 US mothers investigated what they thought about the food ingredient HFCS. When comparing those who avoided HFCS with those who did not, the study uncovered three key findings about avoiders: 1) They were more likely to receive their from the internet rather than TV, 2) they had a desire to have their food related choices known by their friends or reference groups, and 3) they were not willing to pay more for foods that instead contained regular table sugar when compared to peers who did not avoid HFCS.

Researchers found that giving consumers more information about the ingredient such as its history can be effective in reducing ingredient fears. To arrive at this conclusion they asked participants to rate the healthfulness of Stevia, a natural sweetener. Half of the participants were given historical and contextual information to read about the product and the remaining participants were not given anything to read. Those who received information about an ingredient's history rated the product as healthier than those who did not. Lead author Brian Wansink recommends, "To overcome food ingredient fears, learn the science, history, and the process of how the ingredient is made, and you'll be a smarter, savvier consumer."

Explore further: Soda consumers may be drinking more fructose than labels reveal

More information: Brian Wansink, Aner Tal, and Adam Brumberg. (2014) Ingredient-Based Food Fears and Avoidance: Antecedents and Antidotes. Food Quality and Preference, forthcoming.

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not rated yet Jun 25, 2014
It's not reasonable to expect people to get this kind of information from the TV. How long would someone have to watch TV before stumbling onto a program that details the history of Stevia? In this day and age when people want information they search for it. It's not the News Media's job to educate people about obscure food ingredients. If they were doing a piece on an ingredient, it would most likely be because there is some sort of controversy on the subject.

In the end it's people's right to choose what they put into their body. People can buy "organic" at a higher price any time they choose. Educating people about how an ingredient is made does not speak of its health effects, neither does its history. But I guess that's really the 800 lb gorilla at this point. If the agenda here is to simply make people "Familiar" with an ingredient so they will accept it, that's a different kind of education. That's the kind of education that buries ingredients under familiar sounding names.
not rated yet Jun 25, 2014
"Fear" is a biased term. I'd call it "suspicion". The article goes on to mention sugar, fat, and salt. Implying these are examples of ingredients of which we should not be suspicious? Ask yourself why consumers are suspicious in the first place? Maybe there's this understanding that a whole lot of money is spent by the food industry, trying to prevent us from paying attention to ingredients. And a whole lot of people destroy their health by overconsumption of those ingredients.

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