Americans have an obesity problem, in large part because we tend to feast on processed food and meat instead of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Jamie Oliver is trying to change that by fixing school lunches, Michelle Obama focuses her efforts on Walmart, and apparently, scientists are using “stealth vegetables” to make people eat their greens. Pennsylvania State University researchers found that, for adults who otherwise wouldn’t change their diets, adding hidden fruits and vegetables can help cut calories and promote weight loss, without much further change in diet or lifestyle. But outside the lab, we doubt the study will do us much good.
Researchers invited 20 men and 21 women to eat all three meals of the day in a laboratory, once a week for three weeks. They served the same meals to all subjects, all three times (carrot bread for breakfast, macaroni and cheese for lunch, and chicken-rice casserole for dinner), allowing subjects to eat as many servings as they liked. But in some subjects’ dishes, chefs incorporated steamed, pureed vegetables so that their food was up to 25% vegetables by volume, reducing the calorie content and increasing their vegetable servings significantly. They found that, while some subjects said they could tell their food was “different,” they ate about the same amount of regardless of whether their meal contained added vegetables. For some subjects, the hidden vegetables led to a 360-calorie decrease in their daily intake; enough to lose one pound in ten days without any other changes.
But outside of the lab, we’re not convinced this study will help anyone lose weight. If someone isn’t willing to buy, cook, or eat broccoli on its own, then what’s the likelihood they’ll go to even more trouble to hide it in their food? Richard Mattes, professor of foods and nutrition at Purdue University in West Lafayette, conducted a study that helped subjects lose weight by consuming a diet high in fruits and vegetables, but he told Mother Nature Network that many of his subjects “said they were not going to spend the extra money on fresh fruits and vegetables, or shop more often, or spend more time preparing them,” even though they’d seen great results. Americans aren’t skipping their fruit and veg because they don’t know it’s good for them, and they’re probably not skipping it because of its taste, in most cases: We’ve just become used to eating quick, easy, processed meals. As Mattes commented: “it’s interesting that we have to go to such extents to get people to consume” enough vegetables.