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Are We Sexist About Healthy Food?

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Women are making strides at breaking through gender stereotypes: We’re tackling higher positions in the professional world; taking on roles traditional reserved for men, like coaching and refereeing; and we even have the president declaring that playing like a girl means being a badass. (Check out These Strong Women Who Are Changing the Face of Girl Power As We Know It.)

One area where gender stereotypes still hold strong though? The world of nutrition. Researchers from Yale and the University of Manitoba in Canada have found that not only do we associate certain foods with being feminine or masculine, but also the gender we associate them with actually affects how delicious we think the bite is.

In a study in Social Psychology, researchers had participants separate foods like potatoes, chicken, and fish into “masculine” and “feminine” categories and, not surprisingly, both sexes were more likely to mark healthy foods—yogurt, salad—as feminine and unhealthier foods—fried chicken, potato chips—as more masculine. While it’s great that women can order a salad without someone thinking twice, it’s not going to help America’s obesity epidemic at all if we (even unconsciously) mock our men for trying to clean up their diet. 

What’s crazy, though, is that sexism even played a role in how happy people’s tastebuds were. In another experiment, the same researchers had guys and gals taste test the exact same blueberry muffin. When it was labeled as a “Mega Muffin” (intended to convey unhealthiness) in a masculine packaging (men playing football), both sexes rated the muffin as tastier and worth spending more of their hard earned cash on compared to when the label had a female ballet dancer on it. (How else are you tricking yourself? Learn how Reusable Grocery Bags May Be Wrecking Your Diet.)

In other words, our indulgences actually taste better when we feel like they’re a macho choice, and most people think food is healthier and delicious simply because of girly packaging. (Don’t be fooled by pink packaging! Here’s 50 Seemingly Healthy Foods that are Bad for You.)

Interestingly, the sustenance sexism only appeals until we’re conscious of it. When the gendered packaging was taken too far—in this case, labeled as “the muffin for real men” with the same football imagery—people were willing to pay less for it than the Mega Muffin.

The ideal fix? Reach for something you know is healthy, no matter what image is on the label. (Find out What Matters Most on a Nutrition Label (Besides Calories).)

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