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Appetite. 2015 Dec;95:408-14. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2015.08.005. Epub 2015 Aug 6.

What is healthy food? Objective nutrient profile scores and subjective lay evaluations in comparison.

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ETH Zürich, Institute of Food, Nutrition and Health (IFNH), Zürich, Switzerland. Electronic address:
ETH Zürich, Institute of Food, Nutrition and Health (IFNH), Zürich, Switzerland.


To date, it is unclear how consumers evaluate the healthiness of individual foods and meals and how consumers' perceptions are related to expert opinions. This knowledge is essential for efficient communication of nutrition information with the goal of promoting healthy eating. This study used the fake food buffet method to investigate health perceptions of selected meals and of 54 individual foods and beverages. Lay consumers' subjective healthiness evaluations of meals and foods were compared to objective nutrient profile scores, which were previously shown to correlate highly with expert opinions. The results show that nutrition profile scores and lay evaluations were highly correlated, which indicates that lay people used similar criteria as experts to evaluate the healthiness of foods. However, lay consumers tended to neglect the amount of saturated fat, protein and sodium for their judgments. Also, it was found that while lay consumers were quite able to evaluate single food products, they had difficulties in evaluating entire meals. Future interventions should focus particularly on educating the consumer about the negative effects of diets high in salt and saturated fat and they should improve the consumer's abilities to evaluate entire meals.


Fake food buffet; Food choice; Health perception; Meal composition; Meal evaluation; Nutrient profiling

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