In a very interesting study conducted at Stanford University, the descriptions used to label healthy food were shown to dramatically affect the consumption of the item.1 It has long been accepted that the manner in which food is presented impacts its appeal. For instance, a bowl of mushy carrots and zucchini is far less appealing than the same ingredients pureed in a soup and presented with a sprig of parsley and cracked pepper. However, it’s a new idea that the mere words that are used to describe a food can have a significant impact on how likely people are to consume it.

The ‘Interesting Words’ Test

The research team conducting this research took the general understanding that people often have an idea that healthy foods are less tasty. They constructed a research study to see if they could make healthy foods, such as vegetables, more interesting, and more appealing by using labels which denoted more flavor, excitement, and used more interesting words.

All in How it’s Labeled

The study was done on a large university campus, in the cafeteria. The cafeteria served an average of 607 diners on any given weekday – over 80% were students, and the rest faculty. Data on the eating patterns of the patrons was collected over a 46 day period. For each of the days included in the study, 1 vegetable was featured with 1 of 4 different labels such as: Basic labels(Beets), Healthy Restrictive labels (Lighter choice beets with no added sugar), Healthy positive labels (High-antioxidant beets), Indulgent labels(Dynamite chilies and tangy lime seasoned beets).The dishes were identical despite the changes in labels.

Indulgent and Interesting Labels

The number of orders were tracked, as well as the amount of vegetables consumed, noted. Of 27,933 total diners, 8,279 selected the vegetables studied (about 30%). The indulgent and interesting labels did lead to an increase in selection, and also to more consumption. In fact, the “interesting” label had 25% more selections than the basic label, and 41% more than the healthy restrictive label. It seemed that the healthy restrictive label was a deterrent compared to the basic label. The difference between orders of the interesting label and the healthy positive label was even more than the basic label, 35% more orders were seen with the interesting label compared to the healthy positive label.  The total mass of vegetables consumed increased between 23-33% with the interesting labels.

Research Supports Food Descriptions and Impact on Intake

This research supports food descriptions having a significant impact on intake despite preparation methods. This could be used as a low-cost and effective way to support the increased consumption of healthy foods, such as vegetables people resistant to these types of foods.

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1.Turnwald BP, Boles DZ, Crum AJ. Association Between Indulgent Descriptions and Vegetable Consumption: Twisted Carrots and Dynamite Beets. JAMA Intern Med. 2017

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Node Smith, associate editor for NDNR, is a fifth year naturopathic medical student at NUNM, where he has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine amongst the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend campout where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Three years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision. 

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