Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably read some news about how unhealthy we are. The world is getting fatter.
Processed foods, gallons of corn syrup, and weird sounding preservatives have been a dietary way of life for Americans for decades, and the chickens are coming home to roost in the form of rising obesity rates, lifestyle diseases, and soaring health care costs.
On a personal level, the solution to this problem is simple, but maddeningly difficult to implement. You need to eat more plants. It sounds easy, but delicate choice environments, an abundance of addictive processed food, and the bustle of everyday life keep us away from our greens.
If you can relate to the previous paragraph, I’ve got good news my friend. Health freak that I am, I’ve spent years poring over research articles on what makes people choose the way they do, and it turns out there are some predictably easy ways to “nudge” people to eat the food they need, even if they can’t stand it.
Here are four good methods:
- Puree vegetables and add them to other dishes.
You can’t reject what you can’t detect. Pureed food is condensed and can be mixed with other soups and sauces without making a dint on its flavor. This method has been tested and passed on the pickiest cohort of eaters: little kids.
A study conducted in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that kids who ate meals with liquid vegetables secretly injected into them ate the same amount of food as before, consumed 142 kcal less per meal, and reported no extra dissatisfaction with their meal. If it worked on them, it’ll work on you too.
- Buy a Blender
The blender has been the centerpiece of the raw foodie’s kitchen for years. Anyone who’s experimented with homemade juices and smoothies can tell you it’s easy to come up with concoctions that taste good despite the presence of icky-tasting greens.
Consider my morning routine: after my daily run I add spinach, wheat germ, spirulina powder, and a green super-food powder into a strawberry-banana smoothie. That’s a lot of foul tasting crap. But with some fruit, plain yogurt and honey, you don’t even notice it’s there.
- Eat the Same Vegetables Everyday
Behavioral research has repeatedly demonstrated that your perception of the food you eat changes after repeated exposure. Over time, the food loses its remarkable qualities and your taste-aversion starts to wane. You become more accepting of the food, have greater expectations of fullness, which reduces your portion size and increases your feelings of satisfaction. Food repetition has proven to be quite effective at gently influencing the choice patterns of children over time, and can even reverse negative perceptions of a food with no additional changes. While it’s best to get a wide variety of produce, some vegetables are better than none at all.
- Buy Your Food With Cash
Perhaps surprisingly, the option of cash vs credit has a very large influence on your tendency to choose healthy or junk foods. A report on school health written by the USDA discussed an intervention study that measured the purchasing decisions of college students who bought food with a debit card, vs. students who paid with cash. To their surprise, there was a clear improvement in food choices for the students who paid with cash. They bought less processed food, consumed less calories, and ate more produce than the other group.
The correlation seemed puzzling at first, but the effect is rooted in a basic tenet of human psychology: we choose our actions more carefully when they’re more difficult. Paying with cash is more psychologically gripping than paying with a card, and it causes you to think carefully about what you’re buying, and sub-consciously steers you away from spontaneous eating.
At the end of the day, making the right lifestyle choice is difficult. If it wasn’t there wouldn’t be an obesity epidemic. But just like any other domain, there’s an abundance of hacks that can give you a free lunch (no pun intended), and make the best choice the easy one.