New Psychological Trick May Help You (Willingly) Eat Your Vegetables

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Bradley P. Turnwald, M.S., and coauthors from Stanford University in California, tested whether using indulgent descriptive words and phrases typically used to describe less healthy foods would increase vegetable consumption because some perceive healthier foods as less tasty, according to a research letter published by JAMA Internal Medicine.

"Further research should assess how well the effects generalize to other settings and explore the potential of indulgent labeling to help alleviate the pervasive cultural mindset that healthy foods are not tasty", the article concludes.

Giving dishes more exciting names could encourage people to eat more vegetables at a time as well: Researchers found that fun names resulted in a 23% increase in the mass of vegetables consumed compared with basic descriptions, and a 33% increase compared with healthy restrictive labels.

As America struggles with its obesity epidemic, health advocates continue to seek new ways to convince people to eat more vegetables. Each day, the researchers changed how certain vegetables were labeled using four types of descriptions: basic, healthy restrictive, healthy positive or indulgent.

Researchers did their experiment at a cafeteria that serves an average of 607 lunches on a typical weekday and ran their experiment over a total 46 days.

For example, beets were described as "lighter choice beets with no added sugar" (healthy restrictive, emphasizing the lack of unhealthful ingredients), "high-antioxidant beets" (healthy positive, emphasizing the vegetable's health benefits), "dynamite chili and tangy lime-seasoned beets" (indulgent, emphasizing flavor), or simply "beets" (basic). No matter the label, how the vegetables were prepared and served remained constant.

Nina Crowley, PhD, a registered dietitian nutritionist and health psychologist working as the metabolic and bariatric surgery coordinator at the Medical University of SC, said she wasn't surprised by the results. Diners more often said "no thanks" when the food had labels like "low-fat", "reduced-sodium" or "sugar-free". "While we know a more complete picture can be drawn from reading the ingredient list and nutrition facts label on back, if the product description doesn't entice you to turn over the package, you won't know, purchase, or consume it".

"This novel, low-priced intervention could easily be implemented in cafeterias, restaurants, and consumer products to increase selection of healthier options", they said. "It's a cheap, easy way to rethink our approach to motivating health eating", Crum said.

One limitation of the study is that researchers didn't examine how much of the food on their plates people actually ate. But a recent study shows that instead of pushing the healthy aspect of such foods, it might be a better idea to describe veggies with a bit more flair.

Nancy Z. Farrell, a registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, agrees that the marketing tactic would be beneficial.