Is a Candy Bar With a Green Label Healthier Than One With a Red Label?

Do you judge how healthy a food is based on the color of the label?

People are so busy these days -- and so assaulted by marketing and advertising messages -- that it's easy to look for shorthand clues about the products we consume. But here's a warning: Your health may pay a price for such hasty assumptions.

According to a recent study in the journal Health Communications, reported in the Washington Post, many consumers tend to believe that foods with green nutrition labels are healthier than food labels in other colors (even when the information on the labels is exactly the same). But that can be far from the truth -- as evidenced by a green "Guideline Daily Amounts" label that manufacturer Mars splashed on packets of M&M's after market research revealed that consumers preferred the color.

All that got Cornell University researcher Jonathan Schudlt thinking. In the study, he asked participants to view candy bar labels printed in both green and red, and determine which of the items was better for their bodies. The green label won out, even when no other data changed.

"Although the choice of green labels over white or any other color may appear to be a purely aesthetic one, the present results suggest that green labels carry a health halo that encourages consumers to see a relatively poor nutrition food (a candy bar) as healthier than they otherwise would," Schudlt wrote.

So if you look for food labeling clues to help you judge the healthfulness of the product inside, know that manufacturers are on to you -- and look at more than just the color of the label before you make your choices. Green, it turns out, doesn't always mean 'go.'

Alesandra Dubin is a Los Angeles-based writer, iVillage's Chief Lifestyle Blogger, and the founder of home and travel blog Homebody in Motion. Follow her on Twitter: @alicedubin.

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