A new paper published by the University of Texas at Austin demonstrates that there is a strong link between people’s perceptions of what they are eating and how full they’ll feel after finishing it.

“From 2001 to 2010, the percentage of new food and beverage products with health-related claims has increased from 25 to 43 percent. While this may appear to be a boon for the fight against obesity, psychologists have uncovered a paradoxical phenomenon whereby people tend to overeat foods that are portrayed as healthy.”

With near 80 million overweight American adults suffering from obesity, a preventable cause of early death, you might think that a market full of more healthy options would be a positive thing, but this study proved that often this isn’t the case.

Over three small-scale studies the researchers tested how participants saw the relationship between how healthy and how satiating something is, how that perception actually impacts hunger, and how that translates into actual eating behavior. They found that not only does a “healthy” label lead to stronger feelings of hunger—but also an increase in consumption.

When researchers emphasized “nourishing” over “healthy” as a descriptor in a test among undergrad students, their results showed a marked reduction in consumption.

“The concurrent obesity epidemic and rapid increase in health-related food claims has led to the discovery of an ironic phenomenon whereby people overconsume foods portrayed as healthy. Our results show that a relatively simple and straightforward tactic reduces the effect of the healthy = less filling intuition. Highlighting another association that people have with healthy food, that it is more nourishing than unhealthy food, mitigates consumers’ tendencies to order larger portion sizes and consume more when a food is portrayed as healthy.”

In other words, that unlimited salad bar may not be the bastion of health you assumed it was, and just because something comes labelled as “healthy” doesn’t mean you can eat twice as much of it.

Via UpVoted.