Q1: Which contains more fruit, Strawberry Pop-Tarts or Mott’s Apple Juice?

Think that’s a trick quesiton? Tempted to say, “neither?” Well here’s the shocker: the Strawberry Pop-Tarts win because they have trace amounts of dried strawberries, dried pears, and dried apples. The Motts Apple Juice? Nada.

  • Of course, the Pop-Tarts are loaded with sugar. My quick count reveals at least 4 different kinds of sugar.
  • But here’s the thing: the Mott’s Apple Juice contains only water, sugar and Vitamic C. In other words, it’s vitamin-fortified sugar water. Read Water vs Punch and Soda.

Q2: Which is healthier, Strawberry Pop-Tarts or Mott’s Apple Juice?

If you’re like most people, you’ll say it’s the juice. And on some dimensions, you’d be right. After all, the Pop-Tarts are loaded down with preservatives.

But here’s something else….

Research shows people think products that contain “fruit sugar” otherwise known as “fruit concentrate,” are healthier than products that contain plain old sugar. It’s the power of symbolic wording.

Here’s one study.

Participants were asked to evaluate two children’s cereals that were identical in every way except:

  • One label said “sugar.”
  • The other label said, “fruit sugar.”

(The study was conducted in a German-speaking part of Switzerland where they call fruit concentrate fruit sugar.)

Participants consistently evaluated the “fruit sugar” cereal as healthier than the “sugar” cereal. Even people who were rated as being health conscious were just as susceptible to this belief.

You know the power of marketing. And that marginal foods can benefit from the health halo emanating from healthy foods.

The health halo isn’t limited to fruit. For instance, adding yogurt to raisins, nuts or pretzels can make them seem healthier. In reality, though, that yogurt coating is some combination of partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil, whey powder, yogurt powder and sugar. YUM! Read Is “Yogurt-Covered” Really Yogurt?

But consider this…

One reason consumers are swayed by the fruit health halo isthe pressure to get fruit into our kids makes us do crazy things.

Use “Fruit” To Teach Your Kids Healthy Eating Habits

1. Talk to your children about food in terms of the kinds of food they are and the habits they produce, not what ingredients they contain.

In this model, muffins are cake, juices are sugary beverages, fruit strips are candy.

2. Don’t ban muffins (or cakes), juices (or sugary beverages) or fruit strips (or candy).

Think about proportion (how often your kids eat different kinds of food). Teach your kids to eat these treats infrequently. (Yes, that daily muffin habit has got to go.)

3. Stop talking “up” fruit. Just start eating it.

The real stuff. And the more often, the better.If you must talk it up, talk about how tasty it is, not how healthy it is. Read Fruits and Vegetables at Every Meal and Every Snack–Every Darned Day.

4. Educate your kids about the health halo marketing strategy.

Research shows that parents can disrupt (though not eliminate) the influence marketers have on our kids. Read Revealing the Truth in Advertising.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Source: Sutterlin, B. and M. Siegrist. 2015. “Simply Adding the Word “Fruit” Makes Sugar Healthier: the Misleading Effect of Symbolic Information on the Perceived Healthiness of Food.” Appetite 95: 252-61.