En español | Pureeing vegetables and then slipping them into food where they'll be undetectable — that's a sneaky technique parents have been using on picky kids for ages. But researchers at Pennsylvania State University decided to try it on a group of adults to see whether it could help them cut calories and lose weight.
It worked — even better than the researchers expected. The unsuspecting men and women, who ate various comfort foods enhanced with vegetable purees, not only liked the doctored dishes, but also more than doubled their vegetable consumption and cut their calories by up to 360 calories a day.
Imagine — if people could eat 360 fewer calories a day, they could lose one pound of body fat in 10 days. Definitely something to consider in a country where 70 percent of adults over age 20 are overweight or obese.
In the study, which was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 41 subjects, ages 20 to 45, agreed to eat three meals at a laboratory once a week for three weeks. The meals were always the same: Carrot bread at breakfast, macaroni and cheese at lunch, and chicken-and-rice casserole for dinner. The subjects could eat as much as they wanted, along with side dishes like rolls, strawberry yogurt, and broccoli and green beans, depending on the meal. Portion size was controlled by weight, and researchers tracked the amount of food each participant ate.
The subjects were told the study was examining perceptions of different tastes. What they weren't told is that some of the entrees had been padded with purees: The mac and cheese and chicken casserole contained cauliflower and squash puree, while the carrot bread contained pureed carrots and squash, according to Alexandria Blatt, coauthor of the study. The subjects ate both vegetable-laden dishes as well as dishes prepared traditionally, without hidden vegetables.
Because vegetables have fewer calories, ounce for ounce, than the ingredients they replaced, those eating the enhanced entrees were still getting the same weight of food but with fewer calories, Blatt says.
Plus, they couldn't really detect much of a difference. About 45 percent of the participants told researchers they could tell there was something different about the appearance, taste or texture of the doctored entrees, but only two people said they could tell the food contained extra vegetables. And surprisingly, the carrot bread with the most puree got the highest rating for taste and texture, probably because of the increased moistness.