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People eat healthy food if they think it will taste good, new study finds

‘Radically different from our current cultural approach’

Researchers at Stanford University discovered recently that, if people think food is going to taste good, they’re more likely to eat it.

The report, authored by several Stanford faculty members and staffers as well as researchers from other universities, experimented with food advertisements at several different university dining halls. The researchers “came up with a system for naming vegetables” that touted the vegetables’ flavor, creating “the expectation of a positive eating experience.” Under this system, diners would eat vegetables “more often than they would if the vegetables had neutral or health-focused names.”

Ultimately the researchers “tracked nearly 140,000 decisions about 71 vegetable dishes” with different naming conventions. Their findings:

Diners chose to put vegetables on their plates 29 percent more often when they had taste-focused versus health-focused names and 14 percent more often when they had taste-focused versus neutral names. Diners also ate 39 percent 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, labeling them using tasty descriptors had little impact…

Second, careful word choice matters. Taste-focused labeling works, Crum said, 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. For example, “twisted citrus glazed carrots” works because it highlights the flavor and the positive experience, while “absolutely awesome zucchini” fails because it is too vague.

The research is “part of a broader project to make healthy foods more crave-worthy and less like something we tolerate because they’re good for us,” the Stanford website declares.

Read the report here.

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