A new study found that people are more likely to eat vegetables if they have more seductive names. A group of researchers at Stanford University conducted the experiment and discovered that vegetable sales went up by 25 percent when “indulgent” labels were used.

Instead of using the vegetables’ regular names to advertise them, the researchers used names like “sizzlin’ beans,” “dynamite beets,” and “twisted citrus-glazed carrots.” They noted that healthy labels, such as “wholesome” were not a success with the diners at Stanford University’s cafeteria, although the dishes were identical in every other way.

Image credit: Dole
Image credit: Dole

The findings were published Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Indulgent and seductive labeling of the vegetables resulted in more diners eating them

Researchers conducted the experiment over the whole autumn academic term. They labeled the vegetables each day in one of four different ways: basic, where the description was simply “carrots;” healthy restrictive, where description read something like “carrots with sugar-free citrus dressing;” health positive, which read “smart-choice vitamin C citrus carrots;” and indulgent, where the description said “twisted citrus-glazed carrots.”

The vegetables were also rotated every day to make sure there was enough variety throughout the week. Along with carrots, they served beetroot, butternut squash, corn, courgette, green beans and sweet potato.

Scientists counted how many of the 600 or so diners selected the vegetable dish every day, and by the end of the meal time, they weighed how much of the food had been served from the serving bowl. They noted that the indulgent labels always resulted in more diners eating vegetables.

Image credit: Pixabay / Deccan Chronicle
Image credit: Pixabay / Deccan Chronicle

The seductive names resulted in 25 percent more people selecting the vegetable compared to the basic labeling, 41 percent more people than the healthy restrictive labeling and 35 percent more than the healthy positive labeling, although the product was always the same.

‘People tend to think of healthier options as less tasty for some reason’

The researchers noted that although most people know that they should eat a lot of vegetables, too few actually do it. People are recommended to eat at least five portions of vegetables and fruit each day. In the study, they said that many dining establishments have focused on promoting the health benefits and properties of nutritious food to encourage people to eat healthier, but people aren’t simply going for it.

Brad Turnwald, an author of the new study, said the findings make sense when you consider the psychology behind food choices.

“When most people are making a dining decision, they are motivated by taste,” said Turnwald, according to BBC. “And studies show that people tend to think of healthier options as less tasty for some reason. Labels can really influence our sensory experience, affecting how tasty and filling we think food will be. So we wanted to reframe how people view vegetables, using indulgent labels.”

They also stated that further research should assess how well the effects of the study apply to other settings, and to explore the potential of indulgent labeling to help alleviate the misleading cultural mindset that healthy foods are not tasty.

Source: JAMA Internal Medicine