• The study involved 150 university students, who tasted three different samples of burrito bowls with varying levels of meat, legumes and vegetables. (iStockphoto/Getty Images)Source: iStockphoto/Getty Images
There's more to the Mexican burrito bowl than meets the eye. According to a study from the US, adding more vegetables and legumes to this humble international dish could help uni students eat less meat.
By
Yasmin Noone

14 Nov 2018 - 3:04 PM  UPDATED 14 Nov 2018 - 3:24 PM

If you want to eat less meat and more vegetables but don’t think you can go all the way to becoming a fully-fledged vegetarian, you could just follow the path of a Californian university student and try the ‘Flexitarian Flip’.

New research, published in the journal Appetite earlier this year, tested out a concept called the ‘Flexitarian Flip™’ on American university students to see if burrito bowl lovers would enjoy the dish if it was made with more legumes and vegetables, and less meat.

The study involved 150 university students, aged 18–35 years old, who tasted three different kinds of burrito bowls - one traditional meat-filled burrito bowl and two flexitarian-style recipes boasting less meat, and more legumes and vegetables.

The results showed that "the dishes that were lower in meat and higher in vegetables and legumes were found to be just as acceptable, satiating, and satisfying as the control meat-centric dish..."

The high meat burrito bowl (HM) contained 60 per cent meat, 20 per cent legumes and 20 per cent vegetables, and was paired with a mild salsa.

The low meat bowl (LM mild) came with 20 per cent meat, 40 per cent legumes and 40 per cent vegetables, and was served with mild salsa. The third burrito bowl recipe (LM spicy) had the same percentage of meat, legumes and vegetables as LM mild but was served with a spicy salsa.

The researchers measured how the students liked each burrito bowl recipe to determine if adding more vegetables and legumes could help them consume more meat-reduced dishes.

The results showed that "the dishes that were lower in meat and higher in vegetables and legumes (LM mild and LM spicy) were found to be just as acceptable, satiating, and satisfying as the control meat-centric dish (HM mild), demonstrating parity in student acceptance of the plant-forward dishes”, the study reads.

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The majority of the study’s participants were aged 18-24 aged group. Almost 60 per cent were female and over 40 per cent were male. The group featured a mix of ethnicities – 32 per cent Asian, 31 per cent Caucasian and 21 per cent Hispanic/Latino. 

Students who said they liked the LM mild dish more than the other two dishes had an aversion to spiciness.

“This cluster consisted of many more Hispanic/Latino(a) consumers and fewer Caucasians than the sample population, and they were relatively unhealthy in their habits and attitudes," the study says.

“They did not value a healthy balanced diet as much, their food choices were not as affected by healthiness, and they thought daily meat consumption was more important than any of the other clusters and that daily legume consumption was the least important.”

“Interestingly, those who preferred a spicy dish over a mild dish, in addition to being significantly more likely to practice vegetarianism, were also more likely to value a healthy, balanced diet and daily vegetable consumption.”

The study also showed that participants who had practiced vegetarianism were more likely to value a healthy, balanced diet and be aged 25 or older. These students who liked the spicy salsa more than mild salsa also valued the importance of daily vegetable consumption.

“Interestingly, those who preferred a spicy dish over a mild dish, in addition to being significantly more likely to practice vegetarianism, were also more likely to value a healthy, balanced diet and daily vegetable consumption.”

Looks do matter

Another major finding in this study related to the appearance of the dish – the more colourful and inviting the look of a plant-based dish, the more attractive it might be to eat: “…but in order for the consumers to actually enjoy and consume the dish, the flavour and texture must meet expectations,” the study reads.

“Conversely, the opposite effect can also occur: if a dish has low expectations based on visual cues, this decreases the acceptability of the dish even if the flavour and texture are appealing.”

“[In] a previous study, we found that a meat-legume swap in two different recipes was less apparent and therefore more acceptable to consumers in one recipe than the other, likely due to the presentation of the dish.”

The study concluded that “vegetables are a more appealing substitute for meat than legumes from a sensory perspective (colour, flavour, texture); however, legumes provide more protein…”

Flexitarians are classified as people who consciously reduce their meat intake three to four days a week. Research suggests that flexitarianism may help adults manage body weight, metabolic health and blood pressure. But more research is needed to determine potential health benefits.