How to Get Parents to Eat Their Vegetables

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 – 2015 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

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