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Tricks to Get Adults to Eat Healthier

Changing food perceptions and incorporating pureed vegetables into entrees can improve the dietary quality of kids and grown-ups.

September 6, 2013 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited

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Images thanks to celeste343  and Nomadic Lass via Flickr and thanks to Ellen Reid and Shane Barrett for their keynote help.


We saw that just changing the name of healthy foods can have a significant impact on children's eating habits. Are adults as gullible? Yes. For example, in one study, people actually reported "traditional Cajun red beans and rice" tasted better than just "red beans with rice" even though they were both the exact same dish!

Back in World War II, lots of domestic meat was 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 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. So their solution was to invent mystery meat. Just don't 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, you give someone an energy bar that says it has soy protein in it and people 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. In general, a large percentage of consumers taste what they want to taste.

So can you use the same vegetable sneak attack tactic, 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, the big babies. And of course, the more vegetables you eat, the fewer calories you get, so you get the twin benefit. They were eating up to a pound of vegetables a day and 350 fewer calories. Keep that up you could lose 30 pounds a year without even trying.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Ariel Levitsky.

To help out on the site please email

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

How healthy are those beans and rice regardless of what you call them? Check out Beans and the Second Meal Effect.

What's wrong with eating brains? See Avoiding Cholesterol Is a No-Brainer and Foodborne Rabies.

Does soy deserve its bad rap? No, see Breast Cancer Survival and Soy. They may be overrated in the cholesterol-lowering department though: Soy Worth a Hill of Beans?

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

  1. Golden Glow
  2. Preventing Wrinkles with Diet
  3. Beauty Is More Than Skin Deep
  4. Can Cellulite Be Treated with Diet?

This is the final of a 3-part video series on practical tips for dietary improvement, after addressing Tricks to Get Kids to Eat Healthier at School and Tricks to Get Kids to Eat Healthier at Home. But how can we overcome our built-in hunger drives for salt, sugar, and fat? That's the subject of the next video, Changing Our Taste Buds. And then another vanity appeal in Eating Better to Look Better.

For more context, check out my associated blog post: How to Get Kids to Eat Their Vegetables, How to Get Our Kids to Eat Their Vegetables, and How to Get Parents to Eat Their Vegetables.

If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

  • pooyr

    thanks for the video

    • Michael Greger M.D.

      You are most welcome!

  • Jed L

    What do you think of sneaking into meals good veggies like cabbage through sauerkraut? Would this fall under the no-no by you (kimchi bad)?

    Also, how about sourdough bread? Is this sort of fermentation similar to kimchi, with similar negative consequences to health?

    Olives that have been soaked in brine (just about all have) concern me as well. Any similarities with the kimchi process of making?

    These seem like all good foods raw or cooked, but the whole fermentation, brining, sourdough culturing things worries me because of the kimchi studies.

    • Thea

      Jed: I’m not sure what you are getting at. Are you suggesting that people would eat more veggies if it came in the form of sauerkraut? I can’t imagine Dr. Greger or any of the good doctors on this forum recommending sourdough since it is usually made with refined grains. So, it’s not something you would want to sneakily get more into adults.

      You don’t have to respond. I just thought I would let you know that your point or question may not be clear.

      FYI: I do know the kimchi studies you are talking about. Those were very interesting.

      • Jed L

        Is sauerkraut as bad as kimchi, according to Dr. Greger’s thinking – kimchi videos? I assume they are one and the same. I’m a bit confused on this. sauerkraut is easy to sneak into foods, but if it is bad like kimchi, I should stop.

        Sourdough can be made with whole grains. I just assumed that the culturing, fermentation,bringing process were interrelated and therefore was wondering if there were shared negative traits amongst kimchi, sourdough fermentation, and brining/salting of olives.

        • Thea

          Ah. I think I understand your question better and share it myself to some degree. Dr. Greger has at least one video showing fermented foods having negative impacts, but I believe there is at least one other video (which I can’t find right now) which looked at different types of fermented (pro or pre-biotic?) foods which had a positive impact. So, what’s up with that?

          I’m not an expert. I hope someone who is will answer your question. But for what it’s worth, here’s my take: The term ‘fermentation’ seems to cover a wide range of end products and bacteria mixes. Some of that bacteria would be good for us and some bad and in some cases, a mix since the final product would not be controlled. Thus, without much more research, it would be hard to make blanket statements to answer your question.

          • Jed L

            Olives, sauerkraut go through the curing, pickling, lye, brining processes, and they come out tasting wonderful but others elsewhere have expressed concern.

            I do wonder if Dr. Greger has ever flat out said “don’t eat sauerkraut. Don’t eat olives.”

    • Darryl

      While kimchi and soybean pastes are risk factors for gastric cancer, its not clear if its the increased nitrates and secondary amines in these fermented foods, or just the high salt content, that is responsible. In another study correlating salt and nitrate consumption with stomach cancer mortality, the focus was squarely on the salt, as at lower salt intakes stomach cancer was lower with higher nitrate (also a marker of vegetable) intakes.

      • Jed L

        So maybe high salt-sodium intake is what is causing the problems with kimchi. At least this is what I took from your latter citation. I do wonder if significantly reducing the sodium content in the kimchi would negate the negative effects of N-nitro compounds. Darryl, thank you for your insight and knowledge.

        And to all vegans here: Seriously vegans of this community, does the science available really suggest that even small and occasional servings of kimchi and sauerkraut can be harmful, if one is following a diet that has a healthy sodium intake?

        Does Dr. Greger’s available science really suggest that a weekly serving of kimchi could be raising someone’s cancer risk to a degree that is worrisome? And isn’t this -kimchi and sauerkraut- a crafty and tasty way to sneak in some vegetables? They taste delightful!

        • Darryl

          From the first paper, the odds ratio for those consuming more than 1½ lbs of kimchi a week of having gastric cancer was 1.57 compared those eating less than 1½ lbs, ie a 57% higher risk. That’s significant, but the delineation at 1½ lbs also represents a huge amount of kimchi for a westerner (a half-cup serving every weekday).

          • Jed L

            Yes, 57% greater risk seems significant. Could you explain in numbers how this equates to odds, meaning, if 10,000 people ate Kimchi at 1 1/2 lbs. per week, how many would be expected to get the cancer as a result? If the second group ate no kim chi, how many of them would be expected to get gastric cancer? I’ve often had a difficult time understanding the math of these figures.

          • Darryl

            No, the study estimated that if you split the entire S. Korean population into just two kinds of people, the half that ate less than about1½ lbs of kimchi weekly, and the half that ate more, the “high” consuming half woulld have 1.57 times the gastric cancer incidence of the “low” consuming half.
            Ie,low could mean zero, occasional, or a ½ serving every other night. high could mean every night, or binging on jars. The study wasn’t large enough to achieve significance using more statistical bins represesenting different intakes.

  • Plantstrongdoc M.D.

    Actually this is sad. Regarding adults arguments should be enough. Do you want to get sick and die early, then eat meat, eggs, fish, dairy and processed oils. Do you want to stay healthy then eat beans, grains, fruit, vegetables and nuts (98% of the time). How hard can it be…..

  • Daniel

    My personal trick to start eating healthier was to buy a Vitamix to blend all these healthy greens together and cover up any potential funny taste with a scoop of vanilla protein powder. Voilà, a healthy smoothie that tastes awesome :)

    • Thea

      Daniel: Great idea to share your tricks. I hope lots of people will jump in with ideas on what got them to start eating healthier.

      Here’s how I did it: I didn’t (don’t) like veggies that much in general, but I realized that there were some I tolerated much better than others. Don’t like kale? Fine! Eat the broccoli you do like. Don’t like big tomatoes? Fine! Eat the cherry ones. Don’t like eggplant? Or zucchini? Fine! Eat the yellow, red and orange bell peppers that you do like. … While there were far more veggies that I didn’t like than did like, I could focus on the ones that I did like. And then slowly work on expanding my pallet. This worked pretty well.

      Another “trick” that worked for me was to fill a bag each morning before work filled will 2-3 raw fruits and veggies. I never skimped due to cost. I filled it with things I like: Fuji apples, a pound of strawberries, blueberries, 2-3 bell peppers, a bag of sugar snap peas, cherry tomatoes, etc. And all things that didn’t need prep (which is a key factor for me). Then first thing at work, I put the food in an array on the desk in front of me. (Between the keyboard and monitor) I naturally reach for these foods all day long. I’ve been doing this for probably 10 years now. Prior to this practice, I probably ate a single serving of fruit or veggie once or twice a month. My diet was *terrible.* Now, I’m eating fruits and veggies all day long at least 5 times a week. Over time, my preferences for what I like has changed. But my rule is still to eat what I like, while trying to keep an eye on nutrition density, so that I look forward to each day’s set of snacks.

      That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

      • Plantstrongdoc M.D.

        Bottom line: It is not that difficult to eat healthy, if you have the willpower – thanks for sharing.

      • Darryl

        My tricks: sriracha, spicy mustard, curries, and after cooking disasters, more sriracha.

        • Michael Greger M.D.

          Whoohoo sriracha!

        • Thea

          Darryl: re: “and after cooking disasters”
          I laughed a that. Been there, done that!

          Your tricks would make me cry. But if you put aside the painful part of your answer ;-), I think this is a fabulous trick. I’ve used it myself. If you can find a sauce or two or three that you absolutely love, you can put it on almost any combo of veggies, grains, beans, and mushrooms and have a wonderful meal that makes your tongue happy. Good trick.

    • toni

      Protein powders are NOT healthy!

  • tammyg155

    Thank you. I have ice cubes of pureed kale and butternut squash in my freezer and I pop them in whatever I’m making for my family (works well in pasta, sauces, even oatmeal). It’s time to start renaming the veggies too.

  • NanaF

    I will definitely keep this in mind with my husband and children. Thanks a bunch!

  • lovestobevegan

    Try this stew pureed for a delicious, thick and rich bowl.

    Heartfall Harvest Stew

    – 1 cup dried lentils
    – 5 potatoes, peeled and cubed
    – 1 carrot, cut in rounds
    – 3 organic* apples, diced
    – 3 scallions, sliced
    – 1 large red onion, chopped
    – 3 cloves garlic, minced
    – 5 cups water/homemade vegetable broth
    – Sprig fresh rosemary
    – ¼ tsp white pepper
    – Sea salt

    Place all ingredients, except salt, in a large pot and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat until lentils and potatoes soft, about 40 minutes. Season to taste with sea salt and pepper.

    *Apples rank 1st (most contaminated) for yet another year in the “dirty dozen: 12 foods to eat organic” so choose organic.

    ~Complements of lovestobevegan

  • Robin D. Everson

    This is one of my favorite videos.