Vegetable seduction

Vegetable seduction

Researchers at Stanford University have discovered that vegetables are more appealing if they’re sold as ‘indulgent’ rather than ‘healthy’. 

The research team set up an experiment using students in the university cafeteria as unwitting subjects, and found that sales of vegetable dishes rose significantly when ‘seductive’ labels were used.

‘Healthy’ labels such as ‘wholesome’ were a turn-off, even though the dishes were identical in every other way, whereas ‘slow-roasted caramelised zucchini bites’ and ‘dynamite chilli and tangy lime-seasoned beets’ got eaten.


Each day over the course of an academic term, a vegetable dish was labelled in one of four ways:

basic – e.g. ‘carrots

healthy restrictive – e.g. ‘carrots with sugar-free citrus dressing’


health positive – e.g. ‘smart-choice vitamin C citrus carrots’

indulgent – e.g. ‘twisted citrus-glazed carrots’

The researchers then counted how many of the approximately 600 diners selected the dish and weighed how much had been taken from the serving bowl. Seductive names resulted in 25% more people selecting the vegetable compared with basic labelling, 41% more people than the healthy restrictive labelling and 35% more people than the healthy positive labelling.


Previous research has shown that health-focused labelling of food may be counter-productive, because healthy labelling has been linked to higher hunger hormone levels after eating compared to when the same food was labelled indulgently. The Stanford researchers suggest that promoting vegetables with descriptions evocative of less healthy food may actually be the key to promoting healthier eating.

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Steve Ott

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