Hysteria: Great, Now Whole Foods Is Making You Broke And Fat

The New York Sun says that salad and prepared food bars (at Whole Foods, for example) are making you fat. Why? Supposedly, the containers they give you are huge and lead you to unwittingly buy “supersized” portions of food for lunch.

From the NY Sun:

While many prepared dishes at Whole Foods can be healthful, an analysis conducted by a laboratory on behalf of The New York Sun found that filling the containers can result in a single meal containing large percentages of the Food and Drug Administration’s recommended daily allotment of calories, fat, and sodium.

“This is another variation of supersizing,” a nutrition expert for the American Heart Association and a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, Judith Wylie-Rosett, said. “If you give someone a large container, they’re going to fill it up.”

In the analysis, the smaller-size containers from Whole Foods were filled halfway with salad bar items that could be considered to be healthful, including Chicken Provencal, Vegan Chicken Delight, Spinach Orzo Feta Salad, Southern Sweet Potato Salad, and Vegan Peach BBQ Tofu Salad. The salad samples were then sent to Microbac Laboratories Inc., based in Warrendale, Pa.

The lab found that some of the food choices were high in fat, calories, and sodium. For example, the Southern Sweet Potato Salad, which weighed about 15 ounces, contained 70% of the recommended daily allotment of sodium, and the Vegan Peach BBQ Tofu Salad, also at 15 ounces, contained nearly 54% of a person’s daily allotment of fat.

Vegan Peach BBQ Tofu Salad? Is that a joke? Whole Foods issued a fairly logical response to this hysteria:

“It’s a self-serve bar. You take as much or as little as you want,” Mr. Shank said. “We give our shoppers the choice. We provide them with foods that are healthful foods, that adhere to our stringent quality standards.”

The salad bar containers were also designed to appeal to many customer types. “They can be used for one person or multiple people,” Mr. Shank said. “People should still control their serving sizes to maintain a healthy diet.”

Um, we have to agree with Whole Foods here. Isn’t there a scale right there so you can weigh your food?

Apparently, you, the average consumers, are totally unable to control yourselves when faced with mounds of delicious tofu:

Health experts, physicians, and nutritionists said it is difficult for people to sample appropriate-size portions, which they defined as one-half cup, or four ounces, of one prepared food item.

“Visually, you’d want to fill the space,” a cardiac surgeon known for making frequent appearances on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” Dr. Mehmet Oz, said.

“The average person who is going to a salad bar is overeating,” a registered dietician who is a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, Keri Gans, said.

Anyway, if you’re looking for nutritional information for Whole Foods prepared food items, click here.

A New Kind of Supersizing Tempts at Healthy Salad Bars [NY Sun via Buzzfeed ]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Dobernala says:

    I think the $7.99/lb price for stuff on the food bar would also make most people conscious of what they’re buying.

    But with that said, I love the food bar there. Delicious!

  2. Cattivella says:

    Actually I’ve never seen a scale near the prepared foods, self serve section. There’s one behind the counter, but not out for customer use. This always pisses me off because I want to know how much I’m buying and don’t want to have to go across the store to the produce section to weigh the container.

  3. davebg5 says:

    “an analysis conducted by a laboratory on behalf of The New York Sun found that filling the containers can result in a single meal containing large percentages of the Food and Drug Administration’s recommended daily allotment of calories, fat, and sodium.”

    Yeah…and an analysis by me going to lunch has found that filling a container at Whole Foods can result in a single meal cleaning out my bank account.

    I mean, really…how many times do you have to walk up to the register and realize that your bacteria bar lunch just cost you as much as a steak dinner before you get the hang of serving yourself?

    Can we get a little PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY here?

    • RagingBoehner says:

      @davebg5: I frequent the Whole Foods hot bar in my neighborhood and a reasonable portion of food — maybe 10 oz or so — is only about $5. Not too many steak dinners you can get for that.

  4. B says:

    I wish my local Hannafords had smaller containers for the olive bar, but my solution is to just not fill the container. I had no idea this was so hard.

  5. SkokieGuy says:

    What’s laughable in this post isn’t Whole Foods, but everything else:

    “…a professor at the Albert EINSTEIN College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, Judith Wylie-Rosett, said. “If you give someone a large container, they’re going to fill it up.” Judy, Judy, Judy, as a professor, aren’t you embarassed to provide quotes like this?

    Some people actually shop at a salad bar to, uh you know, buy salads for more than one person (i.e. the concept of people living in “families” or “entertaining”). Perhaps the Albert EINSTEIN College of Medicine could apply for some more research grant money to study the fact that when someone buys food to feed their family, they might purchase a larger portion.

    Another radically new concept is that some people don’t actually visit the store every day and sometimes buy enough food to last for multiple days.

    Of course if Whole Foods only had proper individual serving size containers, that would force people who engaged in this crazy living with family behavior to use multiple containers, and we consumerists would be screaming at how their cheating us due to the weight of multiple containers.

    And finally the stunning lab results, that if I eat nearly a pound of Sweet Potato Salad, or Peach Tofu Salad, I’m getting a lot of fat and sodium. Who’da thunk it!

  6. @Cattivella: I’m with you. There are 3 different Whole Foods in my area, and none of them have scales for prepared food. You’d have to ask the people behind the counter to weigh it for you, but they are really busy and understaffed most of the time.

  7. Rectilinear Propagation says:

    There’s been at least one study (Sociology class, no I don’t remember the exact study) that show that people do just fill up the space. They changed the size of the glasses in a college dining hall and found that people still got the same number of glasses to drink despite the fact that the amount of water/soda/juice the glass was holding had changed.

    That said I’m also siding with Whole Foods unless there’s something on the container indicating that it’s a single serving.

    As far as unhealthy stuff on the salad bar I guess as consumers we just need to stop thinking that anything we don’t cook ourselves could be healthy.

  8. triplehelix1919 says:

    oh yeah, its okay when consumerist blames the Consumer:

    “Apparently, you, the average consumers, are totally unable to control yourselves when faced with mounds of delicious tofu”

    But don’t dare criticize the consumer in the comments!

  9. Wormfather is Wormfather says:

    @Dobernala: That’s exactly how I ended up with half a pound of seaweed salad. It was my WTF moment of last week.

  10. MeOhMy says:

    Um, we have to agree with Whole Foods here. Isn’t there a scale right there so you can weigh your food?

    Apparently, you, the average consumers, are totally unable to control yourselves when faced with mounds of delicious tofu:

    Health experts, physicians, and nutritionists said it is difficult for people to sample appropriate-size portions, which they defined as one-half cup, or four ounces, of one prepared food item.

    “Visually, you’d want to fill the space,”

    I agree with both statements. Go ahead and try and eyeball 4oz of anything. Not easy without practice. It’s very hard to portion things without a scale or measuring cup. Apparently there’s a scale provided at WF but people aren’t using that, which isn’t all that surprising. Of course all-you-can-eat salad bars don’t have a scale either.

    And perspective does affect your ability to judge portions. When I get soup or one of these salad bars I always grab the smallest container they have. At home we always eat dinner on our smaller salad plates. It seems like a stupid mental game but the human mind is very easy to trick. We’ve grown up thinking of “helpings” of food not ounces. Using a smaller container/plate means filling your plate and going back for seconds is mentally no different than getting seconds in a larger container even though you know it’s less food altogether.

  11. Wormfather is Wormfather says:

    @triplehelix1919: Should we deploy Captin Sarcasm to give you a lesson?

  12. @Cattivella: @AbsoluteIrrelevance: Have you tried the scales in the produce dept? While usually not certified, they are SEMI-accurate. Also, you could use the scale/scanner on an un-opened register. Just place the package on it, and it displays on a little LCD.

  13. MrBiggles says:

    @Rectilinear Propagation: What you may be remembering is one of many studies, one of which i’ve seen recently was published in Obesity Research in 2005 where test subjects were unknowingly eating soup from self-refilling bowls to see the effect of visual clues on portion size and intake volume. The paper is “Bottomless Bowls: Why Visual Cues of Portion Size May Influence Intake” by Wansink in Obesity Research volume 13 if anyone is interested in pulling the paper. Basically it showed that people could eat almost twice as much without the visual clue that their bowl was empty.

    • juniper says:

      @MrBiggles: I was a part of this study! (Or one of them, I’m sure there’ve been tons.) They served grilled cheese and tomato soup – as many grilled cheeses and bowls of soup you wanted. I learned later that one person at my table (I don’t think it was me) had a bowl that constantly kept refilling itself. We certainly didn’t notice.

  14. Scoobatz says:

    Does anyone else find it funny that this study actually required laboratory analysis to determine that ‘filling’ the container was less healthy than ‘not filling’ the container?

    Granted, you may feel the need to fill the container the first time. But, after realizing you spent $14 on a salad, your healthy eating habits come back to life.

  15. describe_one says:

    I think it’s a bit weird to use these containers as the example for single serving size. Most people don’t buy them just for one person or one meal. Usually you buy them go with a rotisserie chicken or some other main course you’re going to prepare at home. I think the logic behind this study is flawed.

  16. MexiFinn says:

    re: the Vegan Peach BBQ Tofu Salad…

    A lot of Vegan foods aren’t exactly good for you. They beef up (no pun intended!) on the sugar and fat to make up for the lack of delicious animal products so that the foods don’t taste like cardboard.

    So, vegan doesn’t really mean more healthy…

  17. mermaidshoes says:

    @MexiFinn: if i were vegan i would only eat vegan desserts. and maybe some tofu. yums.

  18. marike says:

    If it’s something I LOVE, I fill up the large container and then eat it over 2-3 days. The price per pound is a huge deterrant from buying more than I need, so when I go in and just want a quick bite for lunch, I get the small container and just enough for me to eat w/o leftovers.

    The only thing that really bothers me is when I go to a store and get a bowl of soup in their deli – the small cup holds a lot of soup and they charge you buy the bowl and not the weight. I’ve only seen one store charge by the weight of the soup rather than the bowlsize. I can see why most stores don’t, but I wish they would.

    I don’t think anyone’s tricking me into eating more. I take responsibility for what I put into my mouth. We’re all capable of putting the lid back on the container and sticking it back in the fridge.

  19. SkokieGuy says:

    Perhaps we should boycott General Mills because they package their cereal in a container that encourages larger than standard portion sizes. Gallon milk? Outrageous! It’s Satan’s way of causing us to wallow in dairy excess.

    Perhaps this same lab could do a nutritional analysis of 15oz servings of cereal or ice cream or cheese, the data would be just as scary.

    When ‘serving size’ packaging came out (think of Jello desserts, 100 calorie snack pack cookies, etc.), the food companies were scolded for a ‘marketing gimmick’ to sell less food at higher profit with more wasteful packaging. Now Whole Foods is bad because they let us choose how much we want. Bad bad Whole Foods!!!!!!

  20. lastpulse says:

    Off topic question… What does “the op” mean when referencing the consumer?

  21. zingbot says:

    What is most annoying about the site that we were directed to was the frakking Nielsen survey that popped uo every time you went to another page. Ugh.

  22. TeraGram says:

    OP = Original Post or Original Poster

    The Acronym Finder is a useful tool and sometimes very amusing.


  23. purplesun says:

    Those food offerings in the picture above look absolutely delicious. I think I know where I’m going for lunch tomorrow!

    Just like anything – it’s about portion control, restraint, and moderation.

    I never assume anything that tastes super yummy is good for me or lo-cal.

  24. DogRidingRodeoMonkey says:

    I’d just like to point out that never in my life have I, even for a second, considered any food referred to as “Southern” or “Southern Style” healthy. Delicious, probably, but it’s not likely to send me to the hospital with a coronary.

  25. vildechaia says:

    Best bet for salad bars: put the lettuce in last. As far as filling up the container, people, just use your eyes as guides. As purplesun said above, moderation and restraint are useful.

  26. LoveNoelG says:

    @SkokieGuy: Do you really think that is all she said?

    A likely hour long interview was edited to a single line, possibly out of context. Don’t hold that against her, but the editor.

  27. EYESONLY says:

    @Rectilinear Propagation: @MrBiggles:

    Brian Wansink at Cornell (among others) has done some cool research on this. They do stuff like serving wings to a room of people, but with half the people, they bus the bones etc., and with the other half they leave them on the table. People tended to go on eating longer when there wasn’t a visual cue on the table reminding them of how much they’d already eaten. Likewise, students invited to a free ice-cream social took more ice cream when they were given larger bowls, etc. (the amount taken was measured using hidden scales). Wansink’s book is a short, fun read.

    Obviously there’s a need for common sense with these kinds of things–there hardly seems a point to blaming WF for offering larger-than-single-size containers. But if you think your eating patterns aren’t affected AT ALL by surroundings and other visual cues, you’re probably fooling yourself.

  28. SkokieGuy says:

    @LoveNoelG: Of course she said more. Please don’t try to apply reason and judgement to what I thought was obvious humor.

    Regardless, I DO intend to hold it against her, perhaps while rubbing Vegan Barbeque Peaches against her professorial bosom.

    And I’m a Trader Joe guy anyhow.

  29. @Git Em SteveDave displays attention-grabbing vanity: Thanks for the tip. I never thought of using a closed out register. I don’t know how WF gets away with selling something by the pound and not having a scale available, but at least I’ll use the register trick to beat the system from now on.

  30. MeOhMy says:


    As far as filling up the container, people, just use your eyes as guides.

    The eyes are awful guides. That’s pretty much the whole point of the post.

    If the eyes were any good at judging things like weight, distance, speed, etc this would be a non-issue becuase everyone could accurately eyeball portions! You have to practice this and few people do. Judging by the reactions I see when people consider using a kitchen scale to measure portions, many people actively resist doing so.

  31. RandomMutterings says:

    In my WF the produce section (where there is a scale) and the prepared foods/salad bar are located about as far as possible within the bounds of the store. I once (once) asked the Deli staff to weigh my package and received the answer “No, they will weigh it at the checkout.” When I explained that I wanted to see how much I had taken they were very surprised and not very helpful.

  32. opsomath says:

    Fortunately, the Consumerist post pointed out how dumb this article is, saving me the trouble. Well done, ladies and gentlemen!

  33. FrankTheTank says:

    Ok, so when McDonald’s (or any other “evil” company) offers supersized containers of fries or cookies or soda, they are evil and subconsciously getting you to eat more of their high calorie food.

    BUT, when Whole Foods does it, people need to be more careful of what they buy and make their own sensible choices.


  34. PinkBox says:

    Wha? I shop at Whole Foods all the time, and I’ve never thought the food containers were all that large. In fact, I commented to my boyfriend this past weekend that I thought they weren’t large enough!

    People should be smart enough to control their own portions, especially at $7.99 a pound! Blaming Whole Foods is beyond silly.

  35. @FrankTheTank: Small difference being that you cannot really control the amount of lard McDonalds serves you up. You order by Item, not by weight.
    At Wholefoods, you are free to take as little or as much as YOU want. Also, Wholefoods charges by weight. Ever let facts come between you and your conclusions?

  36. PinkBox says:

    @describe_one: And let’s not forget that they DO offer different size containers that customers can choose from!

    You don’t *have* to choose the largest container.

  37. Sherryness says:

    I guess they at least won’t be accused of the grocery “shrink ray” effect…

  38. catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

    @Troy F.: VERY hard to estimate a portion without practice. i developed type I diabetes last october and today i measured out a cup of cheerios [one serving] because i STILL can’t just eyeball it. in case you were wondering, a cup of cheerios barely covers the bottom of the bowl.

    if i didn’t have a scale, a book and a dietician beating it into my head, i would still not believe that a ‘serving’ of hard cheese, about 1.5 ounces, is approximately the size of your thumb. USDA estimated daily suggestion for the ENTIRE dairy group? 3 cups, counting 1.5 ounces of hard cheese as one cup. mmmhmmmm…. picture your two thumbs together, and pretend there’s another one. eat that much cheddar and you have just met your quota for the day. i’ve been known to put more parmesan than that on a ‘serving’ of pasta [in years past]

    3 ounces of meat can be estimated as the size of a deck of playing cards. USDA estimated daily suggestion for meat? 5-6.5 ounces. yeah, how many decks of playing cards can you fit in that steak?

    next time you get takeout at a restuarant, bring it home and separate it out into portions to see how many DAILY servings of something you have been eating in one sitting. maybe you will be as amazed as i was when i had to start doing this

  39. coren says:

    Why are we quoting a cardiac surgeon on portion sizes?

    • @coren: Because he’s probably the person who sees the major impact of overeating on your heart – especially those levels of fat and salt as they quoted, I can just hear my arteries clogging and my blood pressure rising.

      This whole article is the never ending struggle people have with their relationships with food. (myself, included) Some people think it’s healthier to overeat at WF, or some people measure every oz, every calorie of their food at home — but no matter what wavelength you are, it’s probably an unhealthy relationship, like the wife returning to the wife beater again and again. Thousands of books are published with special diets, ways to make your eating healthy without you realizing it, self help tapes, Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem…. geeez.

      None of that beats common sense. Your fist is the approximate size of your stomach. Before eating, “eyeball” the size of your meal VS. your fist. There’s a gauge all in itself- and it’s free. Beat THAT, Oprah.

  40. no.no.notorious says:

    i’m sure there are plenty of people who think that whatever they buy from whole foods is, for whatever reason, “healthier” and “leaner” than if they purchased the same type of product in another store. a large container of potato salad with “organic” mayonnaise just HAS to be low in fat…because the whole foods store just looks like crunchy-granolay-earthy heaven.

    i work in a chain restaurant where most of the customers are completely unaware of what they’re eating. I’ve had plenty of customers (mostly women) who come in and are complaining to their date/friend that they want need to loose weight, so they order something “light”. what do they usually get? a caesar salad and a cup of seafood chowder. i’m sure they’re thinking…’soup and salad just HAS to be low in fat.’ i want to tell them so badly that they’re consuming about 30 grams of fat, but i’m pretty sure that i’m not supposed to do that.

    i know there are plenty of people who reach for the brown eggs at the grocery store because, for whatever reason, they think it’s “healthier” than white eggs….like they’re consuming whole wheat eggs or something.

  41. Jesse in Japan says:

    A 15 ounce serving? You’re supposed to eat nearly a pound of that stuff for lunch? Eat 8 or 9 ounces and you’ll be fine.

  42. dequeued says:

    About six months ago I was between jobs, and had to really cut back on my spending habits, and I found that I could sustain myself on much smaller portions of food than I was used to.
    Half a bowl of whole wheat cereal in the morning, a couple of mangos and a thin slice of steak in the afternoon, and a maybe a tree of steamed broccoli at night, and I was never hungry, and I stopped gaining weight.

    Restaurants have trained us to eat way more than we need to.

  43. baquwards says:

    Ok did anyone else notice that they were doing sodium and nutri counts on 15oz. of each thing, a serving of a potato salad like they described would be 3-4oz. Just those two items in the dish would cost you $15.

    People need to learn portion control, and quit stuffing themselves until they are full, that often means that you have eaten too much. Anything can be eaten in moderation and you can remain healthy.

    How much food do you think Whole Foods or anyone else would sell if they took all the salt and fat out of it, it would taste like crap and nobody would buy it, customers would go stuff themselves somewhere else where the food tastes good.

    All the information is out there for people to make healthy choices, I don’t think that it is up to retailers to spoon feed the public. As long as they provide accurate nutri-facts for customers to go by, I think that they have done enough. If customers choose to ignore the nutri-facts than it’s their health that will suffer and their fault.

  44. BrianDaBrain says:

    Gonna have to side with the post and Whole Foods here. You cannot blame the market for offering large containers. There are people out there (me, for example) who want a lot of food. Carrying around four or five containers just isn’t going to work for me. Besides, at least at my Whole Foods, they offer several sizes of containers ranging from small to large.

    “Visually, you’d want to fill the space”

    Take the small container next time if you need to fill the space for aesthetic purposes (really, who thinks of these things?).

    I think that people should start taking responsibility for their own health instead of trying to rely on places like Whole Foods to make everything perfectly healthy. It all somes down to choice. If you don’t like it, don’t go there.

  45. alysbrangwin says:

    I like to fill one of those things to the top with all kinds of vegetables and tofu and eat it for lunch three days straight. Don’t take away my large containers please.

  46. BytheSea says:

    Yeah, I do that. The container looks plate-sized until I get it home and realize that it’s four inches deep, and I’ve eaten way too much vegetables.

    BTW, don’t eat the salad bar at Whole Foods. I used to clean it three times a week. Just . . . you don’t want to know.

  47. Ben Popken says:

    This is just like the Cornell guy who tests how much people eat by giving them trick bowls – like a bowl of soup with a small fountain at the bottom that keeps filling it. People end up eating several portions before they even notice. Or if you give people a piece of cake and one group the slice has a fork in it and another group the slice comes with a fork and knife next to it. The second group will cut the slice and not finish it…and the first group will eat the whole thing.

  48. vladthepaler says:

    That’s per 15 oz serving, or didn’t you notice that? Anyone who scarfs down a pound of potato salad probably already has weight problems.

  49. Sqube says:

    So wait a minute, can you blame the provider or not?

    When McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s, and every other fast food place (up to an including Your Mom’s) provided Super-Duper-Uber size optioned in everything, they were excoriated. I mean, they were annihilated by every person who could put on a white lab coat. I remember this clearly. That’s why they don’t offer those sizes anymore. As to the argument that you can’t control the portion… there’s nothing saying you have to get 8 gallons of cola and a pound of fries; at the same time, if that’s what you want, why shouldn’t it be provided?

    I don’t understand how Whole Foods gets a pass and fast food got the shaft, when they’re doing the exact same thing: providing options to the consumer. It sounds a wee bit… hypocritical.

  50. Kvinna says:

    There is a term in art history for this…”horror vacui” (fear of empty spaces). Apparently, the majority of us suffer from it. Bring on the chickpeas!

  51. vastrightwing says:

    Clearly we need food regulation here: we can’t allow consumers to help themselves to food. Consumers clearly will over eat if you let them and this is bad. Licensed food professionals should be necessary in all grocery stores to prevent them from over purchasing mass quantities of food.