Is Your Favourite ‘Healthy’ Cereal Really As Good for You As You Think?

You may be fooled into buying cereal based on bogus marketing claims, a new study says.

Pick up a box of cereal and you’ll see a few common buzzwords like, “wholesome,” or “all natural.” These claims aren’t indicators of any actual health benefits. But that doesn’t stop people from buying them, according to a new study published in Journal of Public Policy & Marketing.

It’s hard to believe so many cereals exist, but researchers analysed more than 600 boxes of the breakfast staple across four separate studies. Their goal was to determine whether a product’s marketing claim, like “no additives” or “high in vitamins” were supported by actual health benefits, like weight loss.

Turns out, these boasts have no link to a cereal’s nutritional quality. However, this doesn’t stop shoppers from buying cereals perceived to be “healthier,” according to the study authors. Specifically, people choose products that claim to be made with healthy ingredients, like whole grains, over products that claim to remove something potentially “bad,” like gluten.

“We found that consumers had a more positive attitude toward claims that are based on the presence of something good, compared to claims that are about the absence of something bad,” study co-author Pierre Chandon, the L’Oréal Chaired Professor of Marketing, Innovation and Creativity at INSEAD in France, said in a statement.

Chandon’s team found that marketing claims also impact the way people think food tastes.

Consumers believe foods labeled as “homemade” or made with “no preservatives” are more delicious. Cereals that are labeled “low fat,” “low sugar,” or “light” are believed to help you lose weight.

So how can you be a smarter shopper? Bypass the front-of-the-box boasts and read nutrition labels instead. Learn how to read food labels with these tips for gauging how much added sugars, protein, fibre, and fat should be in a nutritious product.

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