You’re More Likely to Eat Your Vegetables If They Have “Decadent” Names, Study Shows

Kids are notoriously stubborn when it comes to eating their greens, but it’s not just them. Adults often have trouble when choosing between a hearty, veggie-based dinner and a succulent meal of junk food. But would you be more likely to eat your vegetables if they were described as “sweet sizzlin’,” “caramelized,” or “dynamite”?

Stanford researchers have conducted a study and the answer might surprise you. According to this new research, published this week in JAMA Internal Medicine, people are more willing to order vegetables if they are labeled with “decadent” descriptions. The team used terms usually reserved for indulgent foods to advertise greens, and the results show just how suggestible we are.

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Obstacles to Healthy Eating

The study’s purpose was to find guidance on how to encourage people to make healthier dieting choices. Is it possible to make nutritious food more appealing? And, more importantly, why do we need such initiatives in the first place?

According to health officials, people in the United States need incentives to eat healthier. The obesity problem becomes more urgent each year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics has conducted a study in 2015, showing that over one-third of U.S. adults classify as obese. So can we get people to make healthier choices?

Thanksgiving-green beans


Lead study author Bradley Turnwald, a graduate psychology student, says it’s not that easy. The research is the result of a collaboration with Alia Crum, an assistant professor of psychology and leading investigator of the Stanford Mind & Body Lab, and Danielle Boles, a fellow research assistant at the lab.

Previous research has established that in general, people think healthy foods are less yummy and less tasty than fast foods. At the same time, nutritious food is also considered less satisfying and less filling. Crum and her colleagues conducted a 2011 study which discovered that participants felt more hungry if they consumed a milkshake labeled as low-calorie and restrictive. By comparison, they reported lower levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin when they drank the same shake but with a high-calorie and permissive label.

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Eat Your Vegetables

The researchers partnered with Stanford Residential & Dining Enterprises to experiment with the way labeling influences consumption of menu choices. The study took place in a large dining hall on the Stanford campus. The researchers changed the labels of certain vegetables in accordance to four different categories: “basic, healthy restrictive, healthy positive or indulgent.”

Let’s take green beans, for example.

  • Basic labeling: “green beans”
  • Healthy restrictive labeling: “light ’n’ low-carb green beans and shallots”
  • Healthy positive labeling: “healthy energy-boosting green beans and shallots”
  • Indulgent labeling: “sweet sizzlin’ green beans and crispy shallots”.

The researchers monitored the number of participants who chose the vegetable and how much they consumed over the course of each lunch period for 46 days. That is the amount of days in an academic quarter, which was the established time for the experiment. All throughout the study, the food preparation or presentation suffered no changes.

According to the data collection, labeling vegetables with indulgent descriptions led to an increase in the mass of vegetables served by participants each day. Diners consumed vegetables with indulgent labeling:

  • 25 percent more than basic labeling
  • 35 percent more than healthy positive and
  • 41 percent more than healthy restrictive.

“We have this intuition to describe healthy foods in terms of their health attributes, but this study suggests that emphasizing health can actually discourage diners from choosing healthy options,” Turnwald explained.

Hope for a Healthier Future

Simply changing the descriptions of healthy foods seems like an efficient and low-cost strategy. If employed by owners of dining setting, it could have a significant effect on the consumption of healthy foods. However, Turnwald hopes to conduct more research on the subject. For example, he’d like to conduct an experiment to see the effects of choosing food off a restaurant menu without seeing pictures of the dishes. The findings of such a study could set the foundation for a potentially effective strategy to answer a demanding question.

If people don’t think nutritious food tastes good, how can anyone expect them to choose healthy options over junk food? The truth of the matter is healthy foods can be tasty and indulgent. We’re just not used to describing them that way. Altering the way we label healthy foods can help us change the destructive mindset that says a healthy diet is distasteful and restrictive.

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Also, French Fries May Kill You

In addition to the aforementioned study, there is some news on the French fry front. If you love the crunchy taste of French fries, you might like to know an eight-year study has discovered that eating the greasy goodness on the regular increases your risk of dying prematurely. In fact, it doubles that risk, compared to people who limit their consumption of French fries.

Published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, this research found those who eat fried potatoes twice or more a week may reap some negative health benefits. And by negative, we mean they are exposed to an increased likelihood of dying. Researchers further revealed that Americans eat about 31 pounds of hot fried potato chips annually and on average.

While the study’s main purpose was investigating the potential association between potato consumption and increased premature mortality risk in North America, it also revealed an inordinate number of the participants who died ate a lot of hot chips. But don’t blame just fries. The elevated death rate applied to potato gems, hash browns, and any other form of potato seared in boiling oil. Even though the research did not point to French fries as the killers, they agreed there is correlation with how much we eat them.

As in many other instances, only further research in larger sample sizes will confirm if potato consumption ties to higher mortality risk. But after all, it’s not actually news that fatty fries are unhealthy. The cause behind this increased mortality, warn the researchers, may be a plethora of lifestyle choices regarding heavy chip consumption.

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