How to Get Parents to Eat Their Vegetables

June 19, 2014 by Michael Greger M.D. in News with 9 Comments

Tricks to Get Adults to Eat Healthier

Changing the name of healthy foods can have a significant impact on children’s eating habits (See Tricks to Get Kids to Eat Healthier at School). Are adults as gullible? Yes. For example, in one study profiled in my video Tricks to Get Adults to Eat Healtier, people reported that “traditional Cajun red beans and rice” tasted better than just “red beans with rice,” even though they were both the exact same dish. (How healthy are those beans and rice, regardless of what you call them? Check out Beans and the Second Meal Effect).

Back in World War II, domestic meat was in large part shipped overseas, leaving lots of organ meats behind—”the hearts, kidneys, brains, stomachs, intestines, and even the feet, ears, and heads of cows, hogs, sheep, and chickens.” The challenge was how to encourage people to eat chicken heads and sheep ears. To accomplish this, the Department of Defense evidently enlisted dozens of the brightest, most famous psychologists “to determine how dietary changes could be accomplished.” Taste wasn’t the problem. People would eat brains as long as you didn’t tell them they were eating brains. (What’s wrong with eating brains? See Avoiding Cholesterol Is a No-Brainer and Foodborne Rabies).

Their solution was to invent mystery meat. The answer was to just not tell consumers what they’re eating. And the same can apply with healthy foods.

As with organ meats in the 1940s, the suggestion that a food contains soy may be so powerful that some people convince themselves they do not like the taste. For instance, if someone is given an energy bar that says it has soy protein in it, people tend to rate it as grainy and tasteless, compared to identical bars with no mention of the word soy. In reality, there was no soy in either of the bars. It’s what you call a “phantom ingredient” taste test. “Simply the suggested presence of soy made people believe they tasted it, and they evaluated it accordingly.” (Does soy deserve its bad rap? See Breast Cancer Survival and Soy, for example. They may be overrated in the cholesterol-lowering department, though: Soy Worth a Hill of Beans?). In general, “a large percentage of consumers taste what they want to taste.”

So can we use the same vegetable sneak attack tactic that has been proven so successful in children on adults?  It turns out that covertly adding hidden pureed vegetables to meals works for adults too—and even for vegetables they didn’t like. “It was shown that the adults’ dislike of the vegetables that were incorporated into the entrees did not affect the consumption of the vegetable-enhanced entrees. This indicates that the incorporation of pureed vegetables into entrees increased the intake of vegetables even when the added vegetable was disliked.” And of course, the more vegetables we eat, the less calories we get, so we get the twin benefit. Study subjects were eating up to a pound of vegetables a day and 350 fewer calories. Keep that up and one could lose 30 pounds a year without even trying.

Another way to entice men and women to eat healthier is to appeal to their concerns about sexual function (see 50 Shades of Greens) or vanity:

For related videos, check out Tricks to Get Kids to Eat Healthier at Home and school.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2014 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: Don Buciak II / Flickr

How To Get Our Kids to Eat Their Vegetables

June 17, 2014 by Michael Greger M.D. in News with 4 Comments

Tricks to Get Kids to Eat Healthier at Home

When researchers offered kids broccoli or a chocolate bar, which do you think they picked? Four out of five picked the chocolate (though how proud are the parents of the one in five kids that chose the broccoli?!).

But what if we put an Elmo sticker on the broccoli? When an Elmo sticker was placed on the broccoli, it was half and half. Fifty percent chose the broccoli.

It works in schools, too. A picture of SpongeBob saying, “Got beans?” and 37% more boys and 17% more girls chose green beans. One little sign and kids were eating significantly more vegetables.

We saw how we should cut up (or cut out) cookies to minimize consumption in my video Tricks to Get Kids to Eat Healthier at School. How should we cut up vegetables to maximize consumption? Which do you think 9 to 12 year olds ate more of, whole slices, sticks or stars? And do they like them bigger, or smaller? The results were strikingly clear. Turns out “Shape was very influential; children clearly preferred having their vegetables cut.” Stars were liked the most. What about whole slices versus sticks? No difference. It turns out that size only mattered for the whole chunk: the ordinary size was preferred to the miniature versions.

If they’re still not biting, we can apply the same trick I use to get our dog to eat stuff she doesn’t like: dip it in peanut butter. “Pairing vegetables with peanut butter may successfully increase intake, even in vegetable-resistant children.” Offering a salad dressing dip may help, too.

Then there’s always the hidden vegetables strategy.  In one study, “broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, squash, and zucchini were covertly added to familiar entrees so that the appearance, flavor, and texture of the original recipes were maintained,” like pureeing vegetables into a pasta sauce, and families weren’t any wiser. Covertly incorporating vegetables into foods can “have a beneficial effect on children’s vegetable intake, but it should not be the only way that vegetables are served to children.”  Since the appetite for an initially unappetizing vegetable can be increased through repeated exposure, it is important to use several strategies to ensure that children experience different forms of vegetables, especially whole vegetables, because they’re not always going to be at home.

Worse comes to worst, public health advocates can make a video game. There’s a public/private partnership, “The Quest to Lava Mountain,” where you can apparently harvest kale and gain “knowledge about the health benefits of eating healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain foods” as well as the detrimental effects of eating junk. Where were the kale video games when I was growing up?

What may be the best way, though, to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables? One study, featured in my video Tricks to Get Kids to Eat Healthier at Home, looked at all sorts of parenting styles—should we pressure them or should we lay off? What was the most important factor? The most important predictor of children’s fruit consumption was… the parents consumption. That was pretty much the case with vegetables, too. If we want our kids to eat healthy, we have to model healthy behavior. The researchers concluded that in order to try to increase children’s fruit and vegetable consumption, parents should be guided to improve their own diets first.

For a smattering of other videos on children’s health, check out:

I cover grown-ups in Tricks to Get Adults to Eat Healthier.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2014 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture / Flickr
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