If you can never bring yourself to choose the salad over the pizza, listen: It’s not your fault. A new study says the human brain is hard-wired to prefer red foods over green ones.
In a new study from the International School for Advanced Studies in Trieste, Italy, published in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers found that food hues trigger a range of hunger responses. For instance, people instinctively associate green with lower-calorie—read: less delicious—foods. This is even true of processed foods that aren't necessarily healthier even if they're green, or all-natural red foods like fruits that are low in calories. The study found that up to 90 percent of consumers make food purchasing decisions based on color, for better or worse.
“According to some theories, our visual system evolved to easily identify particularly nutritious berries, fruits and vegetables from jungle foliage,” said Raffaella Rumiati, professor of cognitive neuroscience, who was involved in the study.
As part of the research, 68 people were asked to rate images of red and green foods (such as cucumbers and tomatoes), as well as non-food items, like cooking pans or flowers. “Subjects were more attracted to the red foods than the green ones," Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in Jersey City, NJ, tells The Feast. "Interestingly, subjects thought that green foods had less calories than the red ones," even though unprocessed red and green foods can both be nutritious and lower in calories, she adds. Gorin notes that pomegranates, for instance, are red but high in antioxidants, and tomatoes contain lycopene, an antioxidant that gives them their red color. Lycopene may help lower the risk of prostate cancer, says Gorin.
In other words, beware those instincts. “One cup of strawberries has 53 calories, whereas one cup of spinach has 7 calories," so we're right on the money there. "But one cup of tomatoes has 32 calories, while one cup of broccoli contains 31 calories, so not much of a difference!” says Gorin.
As for that juicy meat in the photo at the top, your brain might be onto something: That beef sure is loaded with calories. Right on cue, that beautiful bright red color acts like a reverse traffic light and tells us to "Go! Eat it!" And who are we to argue?
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