Green beans, for instance, were described as "green beans" (basic), "light "n" low-carb green beans and shallots" (healthy restrictive), "healthy energy-boosting green beans and shallots" (healthy positive) or "sweet sizzlin' green beans and crispy shallots" (indulgent).
Diners think of healthy foods as less filling and generally not as fun to eat as, say, chocolate cake.
Each time a dish was served, the researchers randomly selected one of four descriptions for the dish: a basic description, a "healthy restrictive" description, a "healthy positive" one and an indulgent one.
Vegetables are the most nutritious and healthy of foods, yet most people don't think they taste as good as burgers dripping with fat or a salty batch of French fries.
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"Simply giving the vegetables a more indulgent description significantly increased the number of people choosing vegetables".
Nina Crowley, PhD, a registered dietitian nutritionist and health psychologist working as the metabolic and bariatric surgery coordinator at the Medical University of SC, said she wasn't surprised by the results. Diners chose vegetables with indulgent labelling 25 per cent more than basic labelling, 35 per cent more than healthy positive and 41 per cent more than healthy restrictive.
"Using descriptive words to highlight the flavor profile as well as positive health benefits can encourage people to enjoy more healthy food options", Sheth, who wasn't involved in the study, said by email.
This simple and low-priced strategy of altering the descriptions of healthy foods could have a substantial impact on consumption of nutritious foods in dining settings.
Said Crum: "Changing the way we label healthy foods is one step toward changing the pernicious mindset that healthy eating is depriving and distasteful".
Dr. Stephen Cook, a University of Rochester childhood obesity researcher, called the study encouraging and said some high school cafeterias have also tried different labels to influence healthy eating. Turnwald said more research needs to be done - he'd like to see if the effects would be similar when choosing off a restaurant menu, without the food being visible - but these findings could be the basis for a potentially effective strategy to answer a challenging question. "They just aren't typically described that way".
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