Some research is emerging that may help consumers (and restaurateurs) get more healthy foods without completely giving up what they may consider “taste.”  Vice-virtue bundles are pretty much what they sound like: Meals that offer healthy foods along with some unhealthy choices.  Where’s the health in that, you ask?   It takes the task of eating healthier from the extreme of giving up all “bad” choices (or vices), to cutting down on vices.  Instead of cutting things completely out and eating less food overall, which leaves some people feeling hungry all the time (and how successful will this strategy be over time?), the concept of vice-virtue bundles offers a smaller portion of the unhealthy option but replaces the missing amount with a larger serving of a healthy option.

For example:  Say, you’re looking at some French fries and apple slices as sides to your main meal.  Some people may feel slighted if they have to cut out the fries entirely.  They want a little vice.  They want something that tastes good (we won’t bother to argue this particular point just yet).  So, how about offering a larger portion of apple slices with a smaller portion of fries?  They still get their fries, but they’ve cut their usual vice in half, maybe.  For the average Joe who might routinely choose a vice over a virtue, this is a step in the right direction.

Vanderbilt University has been studying the idea of vice-virtue bundles and just put together a paper that is awaiting publication.  According to researchers, most people have a “taste-health balance point” or a proportion of vice-virtue foods that make a up one serving that they find appealing.  For most people, that bundle contains a small (1/4) to a half (1/2) portion serving of a vice food.  Going back to the apples and fries analogy, it might take a small or even very small portion of fries to meet that vice need rather than having to be super-sized, as in the past.

For restaurateurs, this means looking at ways to bundle existing products in more healthful proportions rather than reinventing the wheel, as they might have in the past, by making sweeping menu changes to satisfy a rising demand by consumers for more healthy choices when eating out.  For consumers, it means having manageable healthy changes made for them in restaurants without having to sacrifice “taste.”

What’s it mean for you, dear patrons, in your everyday lives?  It doesn’t mean huge, sweeping changes when you have a meal with us at Brown Bag, where we try to give you a menu full of healthy choices every day, but maybe you can take this lesson home with you.  How about you throw a few more green beans in the pot, and cut the mashed potato recipe in half?  Or add some dark chocolate shavings and a small dollop of whipped cream to a cup of fresh fruit or berries for dessert instead of going full speed into a plate of strawberry shortcake?  You’ll still be getting a taste of those foods that, if you completely cut them out, might send you off your health track and right back to the land of junk, right?  And if you’re replacing your portion of fries, for example, with more apple slices, then your calories and fat intake are cut but your belly is still full, and that’s a win!