This is why labeling vegetarian dishes as ‘healthy’ might not be the most effective way to encourage their consumption.

The benefits of shifting towards a plant-based diet are well known. Despite that, nudging people towards consuming more vegetables is quite a challenging task. The question is then: how can food providers make vegetarian dishes more appealing? Science may have found a simple yet effective solution.

Labels matter

A new study published by Stanford graduate Bradley Turnwald in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) shows that language has great impact on our food choices.

The research was conducted in Stanford’s student cafeteria. The same vegetables were presented to the faculty with four different labels: indulgent, like “Dynamite chili and tangy lime-seasoned beets”; basic, like “Beets”; healthy restrictive, like “ Lighter-choice beets with no added sugar”; and healthy positive, like “High-antioxidant beets”.

Vegetables labeled as ‘indulgent’ were chosen 25 to 41 percent more often compared to any other label. Moreover, the consumption of ‘indulgent’ vegetables was 16 to 33 percent higher.

Changing mindset

Simple and low-cost interventions, like changing labels, could drive demand for healthier options while keeping diners psychologically satisfied. They could contribute to making healthy eating more appealing and socially acceptable. In fact, indulgent descriptions also make it more attractive for non-vegetarians to choose plant-based options.

While it is important to keep on educating people about the health benefits of a plant-based diet, labeling vegetables with more flavorful, exciting, delicious and indulgent descriptions might just help to make vegetables more appealing to everyone.

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