If you're trying to lose weight, you know that listening to your internal hunger cues can help you realize when you're truly hungry and full. However, there may be more subtle, external nudges that could potentially increase or decrease your appetite. One crafty cue is color.
Scientists agree that color has a significant impact on how appealing or unappealing a food is to you. Just seeing food causes all sorts of reactions in your body. Neurons in a part of your brain called the hypothalamus, which regulates appetite, start firing up. The mere sight of food causes glands in your mouth to start increasing saliva production in preparation for eating.
Results of a new study recently published in Appetite, a scientific journal, found that people ate less food when it was served on a red plate. Perhaps people consumed less on a red plate because oftentimes the color red is associated with danger, warnings or stopping (stop signs come to mind). However, most other studies find the opposite result and have shown that red is actually an appetite-stimulating color. In fact, people find red-colored foods to be the most appealing overall. Red activates your appetite so much that it's often used in restaurant logos, on menus, and on tablecloths and napkins.
The color yellow has also been found to stimulate your appetite because yellow is associated with happiness. Your brain actually secretes more serotonin, a feel-good hormone, when you see yellow. This is why you may have noticed that many restaurants have yellow flowers on the table because yellow makes you feel optimistic and the more optimistic you feel, the more likely you are to splurge on your meal. Similarly to yellow, foods that are orange often elicit feelings of warmth and comfort.
People tend to think that all green foods are healthy, regardless of if the food itself really is nutritious or not. This habit may be traced back to our ancestors' eating habits. Green foods were often viewed as being safe and weren't likely to be poisonous or lethal.
White foods are often associated with excessive consumption, especially when it comes to snacks. You tend to forget that white foods contain calories and this leads to mindless eating. White foods and foods eaten from white dishware are also less satisfying. Keep your hands away from those white potato chips!
Colors to Curb Your Appetite
Are there certain colors that keep our appetites in check and help limit how much you consume? Research suggests that the color blue suppresses your appetite because there aren't many naturally-occurring blue-hued foods other than blueberries, gooseberries, eggplant and perhaps bluish-purple potatoes. Long ago when your ancestors were out foraging for sources of food, blue, black and purple signaled that something was poisonous and it's possible that the behavior of avoiding those colors in food are still with you. Research has found that when foods were dyed blue, people found them much less appealing even if the food tasted good. It's even been suggested that you put a blue light in your fridge to discourage you from reaching in for more food.
Pink doesn't stimulate your appetite because it's somewhat of an unnatural color and often makes people think of raw meat or artificial preservatives.
Gray is another color that people find unappetizing. When was the last time you say a gray food and thought, "Wow, that looks delicious"? Brown foods are also thought to diminish your appetite because brown can be associated with foods that are burnt or overdone.
Kari Hartel, RD, LD is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian and freelance writer based out of St. Louis, MO. Kari is passionate about nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease through a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Kari holds a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Southeast Missouri State University and is committed to helping people lead healthy lives. She completed a yearlong dietetic internship at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, IL, where she worked with a multitude of clients and patients with complicated diagnoses. She planned, marketed, and implemented nutrition education programs and cooking demonstrations for the general public as well as for special populations, including patients with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, obesity, and school-aged children.