Twisted Carrots and Dynamite Beets: How Words Change Perceptions

This study looked at how decadent-sounding descriptions can increase vegetable consumption drastically.

What sounds better: a baked potato or a loaded potato feast? If you’re anything like me, you’re definitely more prone to picking that last option. Something about the more dynamic, descriptive wording caters to the imagination in a way plain, practical words never can.

That’s exactly what a new study found. According to the research published in JAMA Internal Medicine, decadent-sounding descriptions can increase vegetable consumption drastically.

Previous studies have indicated that people think healthy foods are less enjoyable, less tasty, and less satisfying. It’s a common misperception, one that can be adjusted with a simple change in label. For example, when a milkshake was given the label of restrictive and low-calorie, it led to a spike in the appetite hormone ghrelin. When the milkshake was given its normal label, the hormone didn’t spike.

The Stanford Residential & Dining Enterprises combined with researchers from the Stanford Mind & Body Lab to test their theory. They gave vegetables four types of labels:

  1. Basic, descriptions like green beans.
  2. Healthy restrictive, using descriptions like light ‘n’ low-carb green beans and shallots.
  3. Healthy positive, using descriptions like healthy energy-boosting green beans and shallots.
  4. Indulgent, using descriptions like sweet sizzlin’ green beans and crispy shallots.

The researchers monitored how many people chose the various vegetables, all of which were identical except for the label. The food remained the same for 46 days.

They found that the indulgent label resulted in the highest consumption. It was chosen 25% more than the basic label, 35% more than with h healthy positive label, and 41% more than the health restrictive label. Veggie consumption increased significantly as well—16% more than the basic label, 23% more than the healthy positive label, and 33% more than the healthy restrictive label.

Most of us tend to think of veggies in terms of health benefits and how good they are for us. But the human brain has a tendency to enjoy healthy food less than indulgent, decadent options. By changing the way we describe (and even think about) the healthy foods we need to eat, we can change our perceptions and thus increase consumption of those healthy foods.

Instead of labeling quinoa as that weird grain, think of it as that exotic ancient grain. Create recipes for your veggies that make them sound and feel indulgent, and you’re far more likely to enjoy every bite.


1. Bradley P. Turnwald, MS; Danielle Z. Boles, BA; Alia J. Crum, Ph.D., “Association Between Indulgent Descriptions and Vegetable Consumption: Twisted Carrots and Dynamite Beets,” JAMA Internal Medicine, doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.1637, published online 12 June 2017.