Findings of a new experiment suggest of a way to get people to eat healthier. Researchers found that people are more likely to add vegetables in their plates when these are served with seductive names than when they are promoted as healthy food.
Food With Fancy Names vs. Food With Healthy-Sounding Labels
In a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine on Monday, June 12, researchers found that vegetables that were given fancy names such as "twisted citrus-glazed carrots" and "sweet sizzlin' green beans" tend to be more popular to diners compared with those with plainer and more healthy-sounding labels despite having been prepared exactly the same.
In experiment conducted at a Stanford University cafeteria that serves about 607 lunches on weekdays, researchers found that diners opt for the fancy-named food items over those with labels such as ''reduced-sodium," "low-fat," and "sugar-free." They also found that people tend to get larger portions of food with fancy names.
Stanford psychology researcher and study author Bradley Turnwald said that compared with basic labels, fancy description led to 25 percent more diners selecting vegetable dishes and also resulted in 23 percent gain in the total weight of vegetables that diners piled onto their plates.
Limitations Of The Study
The study, however, has some limitations. For one, the researchers did not examine how much of the food on the diners' plates were actually eaten. It is also unclear if the diners would be drawn to the dishes by their labels for the second time.
Nudging People To Make Healthier Food Choices
Turnwald and colleagues though said that the findings suggest of a way that can nudge people to eat healthier.
"This novel, low-cost intervention could easily be implemented in cafeterias, restaurants, and consumer products to increase selection of healthier options. Though we were unable to measure how much food was eaten by patrons individually, people generally eat 92 [percent] of self-served food, regardless of portion size and food type," the researchers wrote in their study.
Psychology Behind Food Choices
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson Vandana Sheth said that there is a perception that healthy food is plain and boring and that exciting labels can get some people to try food that they would not otherwise eat.
"Using descriptive words to highlight the flavor profile as well as positive health benefits can encourage people to enjoy more healthy food options," Sheth, who was not part of the study, said adding that this idea can actually help in getting people to eat healthy.
The researchers of the study, on the other hand, said that the results make sense when the psychology behind food choices is considered. Turnwald explained that people are motivated by tastes when they make dining decisions and studies show that people are likely to think that the healthier options are less tasty.
"Labels really can influence our sensory experience, affecting how tasty and filling we think food will be," Turnwald said. "So we wanted to reframe how people view vegetables, using indulgent labels."