If you want to spruce up your dinner party menu or encourage your family to eat more healthily, the trick could be giving your vegetables “seductive names”.
According to new research, using terms such as “sweet sizzlin’ green beans”, “crispy shallots” and “caramelised carrots” makes vegetables more appealing.
In fact, the study, conducted by researchers at Stanford university, showed that people consume more vegetables were when they were labeled with decadent descriptions that are usually reserved for more indulgent foods.
The findings may help provide guidance on how to make healthier foods more appealing and encourage people to make healthier dining choices, the researchers said.
The researchers attempted to find out how to make healthy food more appealing as one way to combat the obesity crisis.
Lead author of the study, Bradley Turnwald, said that previous research has shown people tend to think that healthy foods are less tasty and less enjoyable than standard foods.
Healthy foods are also perceived as less filling and less satisfying, according to prior work.
To test how labelling could impact consumption of healthier menu choices, the researchers conducted a study in a large dining hall on campus.
Turnwald, along with co-researchers Alia Crum and Danielle Boles, changed how certain vegetables were labeled using four categories: basic, healthy restrictive, healthy positive or indulgent.
Green beans, for instance, were described as “green beans” (basic), “light ’n’ low-carb green beans and shallots” (healthy restrictive), “healthy energy-boosting green beans and shallots” (healthy positive) or “sweet sizzlin’ green beans and crispy shallots” (indulgent).
The team monitored the number of diners who chose the vegetable and how much was consumed over the course of each lunch period for an entire academic quarter (46 days). There were no changes to how the food was prepared or presented throughout the study.
The researchers found that labelling vegetables with indulgent descriptions led more diners to choose vegetables and resulted in a greater mass of vegetables served per day.
Diners chose vegetables with indulgent labelling 25% more than basic labelling, 35% more than healthy positive and 4% more than healthy restrictive.
In terms of mass of vegetables served per day, vegetables with indulgent labelling were consumed 16% more than those labeled healthy positive, 23% more than basic and 33% than healthy restrictive.
“We have this intuition to describe healthy foods in terms of their health attributes, but this study suggests that emphasising health can actually discourage diners from choosing healthy options,” Turnwald said.
He added that more research needs to be done – he’d like to see if the effects would be similar when choosing off a restaurant menu, without the food being visible – but these findings could be the basis for a potentially effective strategy to answer a challenging question.
“Healthy foods can be indulgent and tasty,” Turnwald said.
“They just aren’t typically described that way. If people don’t think healthy foods taste good, how can we expect them to make healthy choices?”
Co-author Alia Crum said: “Changing the way we label healthy foods is one step toward changing the pernicious mindset that healthy eating is depriving and distasteful.”
The study is published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.