Taste is often the most important factor when choosing what we eat, and it is no secret that people will avoid healthier options because they don’t “sound tasty.” A recent study from Stanford University challenged how people choose their food and aimed to find out why people are less likely to eat vegetables, and how the labeling of a product can affect vegetable consumption.

The study involved five university dining halls across the United States where students were monitored based on whether they were choosing to eat vegetables, and which vegetables were chosen based on how the labels described them. Over a 185-day period, the researchers wanted to find out if taste-focused labels increased vegetable consumption in students compared to other label types.

They found that taste-focused labels increased the number of people selecting vegetables by 29 per cent over health-focused labels and increased selection of vegetables by 14 per cent over basic labels. Clearly, labeling a vegetable based on its taste improves its selling potential, but why? Further analysis after the trials uncovered that having the expectations for a pleasant eating experience increased the likelihood that a student would choose vegetables. However, labels that described the vegetables in a positive or fancy way did not have the same effect on selection as the taste-focused labels.

It wasn’t how well the food itself and the ingredients were described that increased selection, but how well the taste of the food was portrayed to the consumer. The fact that describing vegetables by taste, rather than by simply describing its nutritional quality, increased vegetable consumption can have significant practical implications.

The World Health Organization has reported that low fruit and vegetable consumption is linked to poor overall health, such as an increase in the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Statistics Canada reported in 2017 that the rate in which individuals consume fruits and vegetables, five or more times per day, has decreased from 31.5 per cent in 2015 to 28.6 per cent in 2017.

It is fair to say that the information found in the Stanford study should be implemented into how healthy foods are advertised. If given taste-focused labels, the sales of healthy foods could increase, and the risk of poor health and disease among Canadians could decrease.

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