From chemicals in Subway bread to high fructose corn syrup, it seems that we’re more and more aware of, and more and more afraid of, different foods and food ingredients. In fact I will guess that many of you at some point in the last year signed a petition to get rid of a certain ingredient in foods.
In the day and age of the internet and blogs, it has become easy to disseminate information at a quick rate, and reach a lot of people, which is a good thing when we’re talking about foods and food ingredients that may have health consequences. But are our food fears more influenced by scientific research or our friends? A new study from Cornell University indicates that there’s definitely a social component to our fears.
The researchers surveyed a sample of 1,008 U.S. mothers in regards to one specific ingredient: high-fructose corn syrup. They found that “consumers who avoid a particular ingredient are likely to place greater importance on their friends knowing their attitudes.” Which means that the mothers who avoided high-fructose corn syrup wanted to tell their friends about it. And those friends listen.
Talking about your own disdain for, or avoidance of, a certain food or food ingredient can be very influential, as the study also found that†”a personís friends and family are potentially more likely to provide opinions supporting their own perspective more than an impersonal, balanced expert or health professional.”
This is not to say that information from our friends is a bad thing. Most of us tend to go to our social circles for advice. But if we don’t pair that with scientific background, we can be easily misled, in either direction.
When it comes to the food industry, it’s no surprise that they want people to keep buying their food products. The research provided some insight into this as well, saying that “while the scientific background of the target food ingredient is critical, an overlooked aspect of educating consumers relates to the history and background of such ingredients.” Which means that if you hear a food brand talking to you about the history and background of a certain ingredient, and trying to make it seem more familiar, you can bet that they are trying to make you feel better about consuming the ingredient.
So what is a conscious consumer to do? Get your information from a variety of sources, listen to your friends but do your research, and remember that information that comes directly from a food brand is quite often funded by marketing dollars trying to bring more consumers on board.
Above all, the easiest thing you can do is stick to real foods that have ingredients which you recognize.
Photo Credit: Josh Larios