Although current dietary guidelines encourage people to fill half their plate with plants at every meal, according to the CDC, only about 10% of Americans eat the recommended number of vegetables per day.
Many public health campaigns have urged people to eat more vegetables by emphasizing their health benefits. These efforts have had little effect on healthful eating nationwide. Recent studies suggest that emphasizing tastiness may make healthy foods more enticing.
Researchers led by Drs. Bradley Turnwald and Alia Crum from Stanford University tested this idea. They designed food labels for college dining halls that emphasized the tasty flavor of vegetable dishes served. They chose names that promised a broadly positive eating experience, using words linked to excitement, indulgence, tradition, or geographic locations.
The taste-focused labels included names such as “Herb n’ Honey Balsamic Glazed Turnips” and “Sizzlin’ Szechuan Green Beans.” On an equal number of days, the team tested health-focused labels (“Healthy Choice Turnips,” “Nutritious Green Beans”) and basic, non-descriptive labels (“Turnips,” “Green Beans”). The dishes were the same every time. Only the labels changed.
The labels were tested at five universities across the country. The researchers compared differences in the amount of vegetables chosen. At one school, they were also able to weigh the amount of vegetables served and the amount thrown away.
Overall, the team was able to compare choices from 71 vegetable dishes served over an average of 37 days per school. This provided a total of about 138,000 individual food-selection decisions.
The taste-focused labels increased selection by 14% compared with a basic label. Emphasizing taste instead of health benefits boosted selection by 29%. The taste-focused labels also increased actual consumption by 39% compared to the health-focused labels.
Follow-up surveys showed that schools that served tastier vegetable dishes on average had the greatest increase in vegetable selection in response to the taste-focused labeling.