Zesty and Tangy Veggie Labels Versus Healthy and Smart

There’s a good chance diners are more likely to reach for a dish of “rich and buttery sweet corn” as opposed to “reduced-sodium corn” – even if they look the same, according to new research.

The study, published last week in JAMA Internal Medicine, offers insights into how to encourage people to make healthier choices. Growing rates of obesity and an interest in healthy foods has led to an increase in healthy food labeling, but that labeling may be pushing buyers away. Previous research by this same group has shown that people tend to think healthy foods are less tasty and less filling than standard foods.

Eating a variety of vegetables is important to lower cancer risk given their many protective compounds and low calories.

This study included about 600 university students who were given the same vegetable options at lunch.  Each day, researchers changed how one vegetable was labeled without changing how it was prepared or served. Labels were based on one of 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). Carrots were either the basic “carrots” – “carrots with sugar-free citrus dressing,” “smart choice vitamin C citrus carrots” or “zesty ginger turmeric sweet potatoes.”


Other indulgent terms included “dynamite,” “caramelized” and “twisted."

After 46 days, researchers added up the number of diners who chose the vegetable and – based on weight - how much of the vegetable was taken from the serving bowl.

The study found that labeling vegetables with indulgent descriptions led more diners to choose vegetables and resulted in a greater mass of vegetables served per day. Diners chose vegetables with indulgent labeling 25 percent more than basic labeling, 35 percent more than healthy positive and 41 percent more than healthy restrictive. There were no significant differences among basic, healthy restrictive and healthy positive labels.

The authors note that more research is needed, but creative labeling strategies could potentially be the basis for an effective strategy that will have more adults wanting to eat their vegetables.

This work was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program

Source: Turnwald BP, Boles DZ, Crum AJ. Association Between Indulgent Descriptions and Vegetable Consumption: Twisted Carrots and Dynamite Beets. JAMA Intern Med. Published online June 12, 2017. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.1637

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    Published on June 30, 2017

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