Health educators and dietitians ought to be more precise the next time they advise Americans that "vegetables and fruit are good for you," according to a study by a nutritional expert at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
That's because a person who likes vegetables tends to have different food tastes and social habits from a person who prefers fruits. Lumping the two groups together may undercut the effectiveness of "better-health" educational campaigns that seek to reduce America's over-consumption of processed snacks, desserts and fatty foods.
The study by Brian Wansink, a professor of nutritional science and marketing at Illinois, was published in the November issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. It found that adults who preferred vegetables to fruits ate more spicy foods, drank wine more frequently with dinner, cooked more elaborate meals and liked to try new recipes.
Fruit lovers not only had a greater hankering for sweets, but were less adventurous in the kitchen, entertained fewer guests and ate desserts more often after dinner.
"A vegetable-lover's taste for savory or bitter taste sensations is consistent with an attraction to spicy foods and tannic red wine, and a fruit-lover's sweet tooth is consistent with an attraction to desserts," Wansink wrote.
By knowing the different cooking habits and food preferences of these two groups, a dietitian or health professional can better tailor healthier eating recommendations. "You can show them, for example, how fruits are healthy replacements for desserts or candy, and how fruits can offer an easy way to complement a meal without requiring much time or talent," Wansink said in an interview.
Conversely, a person with a predilection for spicy foods and entertaining could be encouraged to try different spices with vegetables rather than meats and impress dinner guests with the right choice of wine.
"For health professionals and educators, the importance of targeting different messages to differently predisposed target markets can mean the difference between a cost-effective program and a wasted effort," Wansink concluded.
The study was based on a random selection of 2,000 adults who were mailed a survey. The 770 people (38 percent) who completed the survey had an average of 1.6 children living at home, were 37 years old and had a median household income of $38,000. Seventy percent of the respondents were Anglo-American, and 61 percent were women.
Of these, 508 could be categorized as either prone to vegetables or fruit by using a cross-classification technique based on their preference ratings for fruits and vegetables and by their self-perceptions.