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article imageHealthy eating: Put flavor above nutrition, says expert

By Tim Sandle     Oct 15, 2019 in Health
New research into healthy eating habits says that efforts to encourage healthy eating which attempt to emphasize nutritional information do not significantly alter habits. Instead emphasizing taste and positive experience are better persuaders.
As examples of more positive descriptors, psychologists from Stanford Bio-X and the Maternal and Child Health Research Institute Evocative cite examples like "twisted citrus glazed carrots" and "ultimate chargrilled asparagus". These types of descriptors are said to encourage people to choose and consume more vegetables than they would had the focus been simply on ‘vegetables are healthy’.
Commenting on this approach, Professor Alia Crum states: “This is radically different from our current cultural approach to healthy eating which, by focusing on health to the neglect of taste, inadvertently instills the mindset that healthy eating is tasteless and depriving.”
She adds: “And yet in retrospect it's like, of course, why haven't we been focusing on making healthy foods more delicious and indulgent all along?"
To test out the alternate approach, the researchers worked with Stanford Residential and Dining Enterprises. For this, the partners developed a different system for naming vegetables. These alternatives considered the flavors in vegetable dishes using terms which emphasized a positive eating experience. This revealed that ‘decadent-sounding’ labels for foods generally considered to be healthy encouraged more people to eat vegetables.
Further examples included focusing on the preparation methods, using terms like "roasted," together with words that highlight experience such as "sizzling" or "tavern style" help convey the dish is as tasty.
The research was subsequently expanded to other university dining halls around U.S., as part of the Menus of Change University Research Collaborative. Data was collated, and the researchers assessed some140,000 decisions about 71 vegetable dishes that had been labeled with either taste-focused, health-focused or neutral names.
This revealed that people popped vegetables onto their plates 29 percent more often if the vegetables had a taste-focused named compared with a health-focused name. In addition, the consumption of vegetables was 14 percent higher for taste-focused compared with neutral names.
However, in order to ensure repeat behaviors, it was important that the vegetables afforded taste-focused names were actually delicious.
The research has been published in the journal Psychological Science. The research paper is titled “Increasing Vegetable Intake by Emphasizing Tasty and Enjoyable Attributes: A Randomized Controlled Multisite Intervention for Taste-Focused Labeling.”
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