If you’d rather chow down on a juicy red steak than a side of green broccoli, a new study suggests you may have another scapegoat besides your taste buds. The eyes may play a significant role in humans’ eating preferences, and our peepers appear to be biased towards red foods over green ones.
The findings come courtesy of a team of researchers at the International School for Advanced Studies in Trieste, Italy. “According to some theories, our visual system evolved to easily identify particularly nutritious berries, fruits and vegetables from jungle foliage,” Raffaella Rumiati, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, explained according to the Daily Mail. “We are visual animals, unlike others, dogs, for example, who depend on their sense of smell.”
In the paper, published today in the journal Scientific Reports and described by Rumiati as one of “only a few studies … focused on the topic,” the Italian research team discovered that bright red foods created more arousal in participants and also led to a perception of higher calorie counts. Meanwhile, green foods had the opposite effect. “This result holds for a large array of food comprising of natural food - where color likely predicts calorie content - and of transformed food where, instead, color is poorly diagnostic of energy content,” the authors wrote. They then added, “Importantly, this pattern does not emerge with nonfood items.”
“In natural foods, color is a good predictor of calories,” explained Francesco Foroni, another one of the study’s authors. “The redder an unprocessed food is, the more likely it is to be nutritious, while green foods tend to be low in calories.” However, Rumiati pointed out our preference towards red foods applies to more than just natural items, which may indicate just how deeply rooted our color biases may be. “This is also true for processed, or cooked foods,” Rumiati stated. “With cooked foods, however, the dominance of red over green no longer provides reliable information, which might lead us to believe that the brain would not apply the rule to processed foods. On the contrary, it does, which hints at the presence of ancient evolutionary mechanisms from before the introduction of cooking.”
Of course, a lot has happened since “before the introduction of cooking,” and theoretically, as humans, we should be able to use our evolved human brains to make more health-conscious decisions when eating regardless of color. Or we could just dye healthy foods red and unhealthy foods green, something Rumiati actually insinuates. “Some countries propose bans on certain types of products,” she says. “Perhaps food color could be used to produce significant results, even if artificial.” To put a twist on a Shakespeare line, “Would a chicken parm by any other color smell as sweet?”