‘Labels’ lead to healthy eating

New Delhi: Highlighting the tastiness of healthy food can help us make better food choices, researchers report. In a new study, researchers found that evocative labels such as “twisted citrus glazed carrots” and “ultimate chargrilled asparagus” can get people to choose and consume more vegetables than they otherwise would — as long as the food is prepared flavorfully.

“This is radically different from our current cultural approach to healthy eating which, by focusing on health to the neglect of taste, inadvertently instils the mindset that healthy eating is tasteless and depriving,” says senior author Alia Crum, an assistant professor of psychology at Stanford University.

“Most strategies to date have focused on getting people to avoid unhealthy foods, in the hope that the promise of health motivates them to eat better,” says first author Bradley Turnwald, a postdoctoral fellow in Crum’s Mind and Body Lab. “The problem is, that doesn’t actually motivate most people to approach healthy foods.”

About three years ago, Crum, Turnwald, and Danielle Boles, a graduate student in Crum’s lab, partnered with Stanford Residential & Dining Enterprises to try out a new approach. Culling adjectives from language popular restaurants used to describe less healthy foods, they 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 — hence “twisted citrus glazed carrots.” That study from 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.

Those names mattered. Diners chose to put vegetables on their plates 29% more often when they had taste-focused versus health-focused names and 14% more often when they had taste-focused versus neutral names. Diners also ate 39% more vegetables by weight, according to measurements of what diners served themselves versus how much ended up in compost. The team discovered two key caveats. First, giving vegetables taste-focused names only worked when those dishes were credibly tasty. At one school where diners thought the vegetable dishes in general weren’t as tasty, labelling them using tasty descriptors had little impact.

Second, careful word choice matters. Taste-focused labelling works, Crum says, because it increases the expectation of a positive taste experience. In particular, references to ingredients such as “garlic” or “ginger,” preparation methods such as “roasted,” and words that highlight experience such as “sizzlin’” or “tavern style” help convey the dish is not only tasty but also indulgent, comforting, or nostalgic.