April 21/Thinkstock -- Which is healthier, salad or pasta? If someone is dieting, chances are they will say salad, according to a new study on how dieters make snap judgments based on food names rather than ingredients.

The study's researchers asked a group of dieters and nondieters to pick which of two meals they would rather eat, pasta or salad, based on ingredient lists and photos. The catch was that both meals not only contained the same ingredients (including lettuce, tomatoes, pasta shells, cheese and vinaigrette), but they were the exact same dish containing 900 calories and 60g of fat.

The dieters rated the dish as much more unhealthy when it was called pasta than nondieters did, and both groups rated it healthier when it was called salad, say investigators writing in the Journal of Consumer Research. Caglar Irmak (University of South Carolina), Beth Vallen (Loyola University) and Stefanie Rosen Robinson (University of South Carolina) explain snap judgment in the real world can lead to decisions that are presumed healthy when, actually, they are not, like buying "veggie chips" at the grocery store or eating more of a supposedly healthy food (in another part of the study, participants who were given jelly beans branded as either "fruit chews" or "candy chews" ate more of them when they were called the healthier-sounding option).

From the April 22, 2011, Prepared Foods' Daily News.