Descriptive flavours on labels encourage healthy eating, study

Friday, 04 October, 2019

Descriptive flavours on labels encourage healthy eating, study

Evocative labels such as 'twisted citrus glazed carrots' or 'ultimate chargrilled asparagus' can encourage people to choose and consume more vegetables than they otherwise would — as long as the food is flavourful, researchers at Stanford University have found.

Most people want to eat healthier, but efforts to encourage healthy eating by providing nutrition information on the labels of food have not drastically changed habits. A new study suggests that labels emphasising taste and positive experience could help. The findings from the article ‘Increasing Vegetable Intake by Emphasizing Tasty and Enjoyable Attributes’ appear in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Alia Crum, an assistant professor of psychology and the senior author on the new paper, said that the current approach to healthy eating, which focuses on health, can inadvertently instil in the mindset of consumers that healthy eating is tasteless and depriving.  In retrospect, she questions why we haven’t been focusing on making healthy foods more delicious and indulgent all along.

About three years ago, Crum, Brad Turnwald and graduate student Danielle Boles partnered with Stanford Residential & Dining Enterprises and came up with a system for naming vegetables that focused on the flavours in vegetable dishes along with words that created the expectation of a positive eating experience. That study, published in 2017, showed that decadent-sounding labels could get people to eat vegetables more often than they would if the vegetables had neutral or health-focused names.

The colleagues have now extended those findings by repeating the experiment at additional university dining halls around the United States. They found that diners put vegetables on their plates 29% more often when the food had taste-focused versus health-focused names and 14% more often when it had taste-focused versus neutral names. Diners also ate 39% more vegetables by weight, according to measurements of what they served themselves versus how much ended up in compost.

The team found that giving vegetables taste-focused names only worked when those dishes were indeed delicious. In particular, references to ingredients such as garlic or ginger, preparation methods such as roasted and words that highlight experience such as ‘sizzling’ or ‘tavern style’ help convey the dish is not only tasty but also indulgent, comforting or nostalgic. For example, ‘twisted citrus glazed carrots’ works because it highlights the flavour, while ‘absolutely awesome zucchini’ fails because it’s too vague.

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