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Decadent veggie names may boost healthy eating, new Stanford study suggests

The choice, it seems, is obvious: Would you rather try "slow-roasted caramelized zucchini bites" or some "lighter-choice zucchini?" Or, what about "zesty ginger-turmeric sweet potatoes" versus "cholesterol-free sweet potatoes?"

A new Stanford study, which appears this week in JAMA Internal Medicine, confirmed that labels given to vegetables can encourage, or discourage, diners from selecting them.

A press release explains:

To test how labeling could impact consumption of healthier menu choices, the researchers collaborated with Stanford Residential & Dining Enterprises to conduct a study in a large dining hall on campus. The researchers changed how certain vegetables were labeled using four categories: basic, healthy restrictive, healthy positive or indulgent.

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).

Research assistants monitored the number of diners who chose the vegetable and how much was consumed over the course of each lunch period for an entire academic quarter (46 days). There were no changes to how the food was prepared or presented throughout the study.

The researchers found that labeling vegetables with indulgent descriptions led more diners to choose vegetables and resulted in a greater mass of vegetables served per day.

The research, which was led by psychology graduate student Bradley Turnwald and Alia Crum, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology, suggests that instincts to label food as "healthy" may in fact dissuade diners from selecting them.

"Changing the way we label healthy foods is one step toward changing the pernicious mindset that healthy eating is depriving and distasteful," Crum said.

Previously: Getting up steam to eat better: Stanford scientists find what works, Reimagining nutrition education: Doctor-chefs teach Stanford medical students how to cook and No bribery necessary: Children eat more vegetables when they understand how food affects their bodies
Photo by PeterKraayvanger

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