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When it comes to healthy eating, are you looking at that glass of spinach smoothie or your mug of herbal tea as half-empty or half-full? Sounds silly, but attitude can indeed affect your appetite – including the foods you choose to enjoy.

A new study out of Stanford shares encouraging research on a pretty simple way to change your mindset when it comes to eating right: If you want to eat more veggies, stop touting health and start talking flavor. 

Scientists were inspired by earlier studies indicating “the exact same foods can be experienced as more or less tasty, filling, physiologically satiating, and neurologically rewarding, depending on how they are described.” So they designed a study to assess whether taste-focused labels would increase vegetable consumption at five university dining halls across the US. (They chose college students in part because, among all age groups, they tend to eat the least produce.)  

Three types of labels were used for vegetables served in the dining halls: basic (e.g., turnips), health-focused (Healthy Choice Turnips), and taste-focused (Herb n’ Honey Balsamic Glazed Turnips). When taste-focused labels were used, consumption went way up. 

Across 137,842 diner decisions, 185 days, and 24 vegetable types, taste-focused labels increased vegetable selection by 29% compared with health-focused labels and by 14% compared with basic labels.

Together, these studies show that emphasizing tasty and enjoyable attributes increases vegetable intake in real-world settings in which vegetables compete with less healthy options.

salad bar selectionsCan you imagine? A 29% increase in veggie selection even when those veggies are side-by-side with “less healthy options” – and from college kids, to boot? And all it took was changing a label from “Nutritious Green Beans” to “Sizzlin’ Szechuan Green Beans with Toasted Garlic.” 

But maybe it’s not hard to fathom. There’s plenty out there about the powerful effect advertising has over our food choices, and especially our children’s choices and demands. All that these researchers really did was take the clever marketing schemes of the food industry and apply them to nutritious food!

Alia Crum, senior author of the study, talked with FoodNavigator-USA about how powerful this negative mindset can be when it comes to preparing and serving healthy dishes. 

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.

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?

Agreed! Particularly with poor diet as the number one risk factor for deaths in most countries of the world, including the US, change is crucial. 

But if your only strategy so far has been repeating to the kids (or yourself) that beets are nature’s candy or that acorn squash is the same as pumpkin pie but without the crust, don’t worry. Those Stanford scientists won’t leave you empty handed when it comes to tasty adjectives.

carrotsIn part so they could create tantalizing titles for the veggie dishes they offered as part of their study, researchers put together an easy-to-use guide with a few helpful and fun style rules so you too can create a mouth-watering menu at home. 

Just a few simple steps and you could be dishing up delectable descriptions like “Butter-braised Cabbage with Bright Lemon Zest” or “Slow-roasted Curry Sweet Potatoes with Fragrant Ginger and Garlic.”  

Be warned, though. Once you take a peek at Stanford’s suggestions, your mouth may start to water, and you just may find yourself hightailing it for the produce section on your way home from work. 

Happy healthy eating!

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