Healthy Fast-Food Menu Items Can Lure and Deceive Consumers

If you're on a diet or are at least trying to eat healthier, you probably don't frequent fast-food restaurants throughout the day. A typical fast-food menu isn't full of healthy and nutritious items. However, a few fast-food chains recently began to add lighter options to menus, due in part to a requirement that they post calorie counts on menus.

Along with more nutritious items, many restaurants are offering smaller portions. We have seen the under-400 or under-500-calorie menus at locations like Applebee's and Chili's, but many fast-food restaurants are jumping on the bandwagon as well. McDonald's announced it will offer an egg white version of its Egg McMuffin breakfast sandwich, and Burger King will add a turkey burger to its menu.

But according to market research, consumers rarely order off the healthy menu, and restaurant chains would appear to be adding healthy options to make consumers think the restaurant is a healthier option than it really is. Basically, it's a marketing strategy to bring customers to the restaurant. And the restaurants make money from consumers no matter what menu item is ordered.

In a recent Huffington Post article, Darren Tristiano of Technomic, a market research firm, said consumers choose flavor over nutrition when deciding what to eat. In fact, according to the research, only 1 to 2 percent of burger orders are veggie burgers, yet many chains have added these types of items to their menus.

When you weigh the options of having a grilled chicken sandwich with either a burger or fried chicken sandwich at a fast-food chain, how often will you choose the option lower in fat and calories? We appreciate the healthier options, but they usually don't change our decisions.

Contrary to popular belief, these "healthy" menu items are not a significant reduction in calories from the original ones. In fact, the new turkey burger from Burger King has 530 calories, whereas a regular Whopper sandwich has 630 calories and a regular cheeseburger has 280 calories. It doesn't seem like the "healthy" turkey burger is comparatively better than a regular burger.

Knowing that a restaurant offers healthier items places the thought in consumers' minds that it's a healthier place to eat than other restaurants. But when it comes time to order, we rarely order off the "healthy" side of the menu -- and if we do, it's not that much healthier anyway.

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