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Making the cut - at restaurants
People believe that healthy food just can't taste very good. It's well-known in the restaurant world that if you label a dish "healthy" you'll sell less of it for exactly that reason: it's as if they had labeled the dish "doesn't taste as good as other things on the menu."

When you don't know it's low sodium
Way back in 2011 I shared with you an article about reducing the amount of salt in bread. Breadstuffs are one of the largest sources of sodium in our diet, so a team in the Netherlands conducted what is essentially a blinded taste comparison of salt-reduced breads with standard breads.

More on the plate means more in the tummy, grownup version
Serve more, eat more: it's clear that larger portion sizes have contributed to the rise in obesity. As we saw back in 2007, this is true for kids, too, who ate 1/3 more food when presented with twice the portion size. One of the ways to combat this is to choose foods that are lower in energy density (that is, have fewer calories for greater volume).


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The power of description

twisted citrus-glazed carrots - as described in the accompanying article

Years ago I was doing a cooking demonstration on "UKTV - Good Food Live." The recipe was my Caesar Salad dressing, and when the presenter tasted it - "The moment of truth," she said - she literally stopped and stared at the camera, visibly stunned. "I thought it was going to be awful," she said. "That's lovely!"

People are still surprised when they taste my recipes and find out they're actually good - they still expect that anything that's supposed to be good for you just isn't going to taste good. Chefs and restaurateurs know that labeling a dish "healthy" is the kiss of death: very few people will order it.

A fascinating research letter published in JAMA Internal Medicine this week may help explain why - and how we can combat that perception that healthy food can't taste good.

The authors, researchers at Stanford, worked with the food service staff at the university to test different labels for the same vegetable dish. Each weekday of the academic quarter the authors chose one featured vegetable dish and randomly labeled it in one of four ways: basic (e.g. "carrots"), healthy restrictive ("carrots with sugar-free citrus dressing"), healthy positive ("smart-choice vitamin C citrus carrots"), and indulgent ("twisted citrus-glazed carrots").

Research assistants monitored those who ate in the dining hall and recorded how many people chose the featured vegetable and how much of it they purchased.

Unsurprisingly, the indulgent description induced people to choose the vegetable 25% more often - and purchase 23% more - than when the vegetable was labeled with the basic description. Compared to the "healthy restrictive" description, people chose the indulgently-labeled vegetable 41% more often, and 35% more often than when the label was "healthy positive."

What this means for you

The authors suggest that highlighting the health effects of foods in order to get people to choose the healthier options may be backfiring. Instead, they say, healthy foods should be described in menus and labels in the same way that other, less-healthy foods are described. While you may not own a restaurant, you can certainly make use of this at home, especially with kids: don't tell people the food is healthy - just serve great food that happens to be great for you.

First posted: June 14, 2017