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August 2021 Question of the Month: Do Social Media Recipes Help Us Eat Better?

Social media can promote nutritious, but users still choose delicious.

Man cooking with social media recipes in the kitchen

Social media could be a powerful tool in the effort to shape dietary behavior because, well, we’re all on it. But just because many of the social media recipes posted on platforms like Pinterest are on the healthy side doesn’t mean people are actually making them. Like many things on social media, looks can be deceiving.

In analyzing food-related content on Pinterest, researchers from George  Mason University’s College of Health and Human Services confirmed that there is a culture of promoting nutritious recipes on the site—for instance, dishes that are high in vegetables and lean meats. What’s more, these tend to be rewarded with more repins and likes. However, when the researchers tracked engagement—by tallying comments and posted photos or videos of meals people cooked—it was clear the majority of users opted for recipes with more calories, sugar and fat. Search terms like “tasty” and “delicious” were more likely to lead to unhealthy recipes.

As we are learning, social media encourages people to present an aspirational version of themselves to the public, but everyday reality often tells a different tale. To change perceptions, one option might be to highlight the flavor of a dish, rather than merely how nutritious it is.

Do you use social media platforms like Pinterest and Instagram for recipe ideas? If so, is what you prepare healthy or indulgent? How can social media recipes do a better job at encouraging healthier eating habits? How can we bridge the gap between users’ aspirations and their actual behaviors? Send your answer to Sandy Todd Webster at [email protected]

See also: For Better or Worse, Social Media Friends Influence Food Choices

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