Though parents have always told their children to eat their greens, they might start telling them to eat off their reds. Scientists have found that when subjects ate off red plates, they tended to eat less than when eating from plates of any other color.
The latest in the apparently growing field of plate science, expands on an earlier experiment which seemed to prove that contrasts in plate and meal colors led to differences in pasta portion servings. In that experiment, diners whose pasta matched their plate color - such as pasta with Alfredo sauce on white plates - carb-loaded 22% more than those who used Alfredo sauce on red plate or marinara on white plates. Chalk this up to the Delbouf illusion, the same mind trick that makes portion sizes look bigger on smaller plates.
In a more recent study reported by the journal Appetite, researchers at The University of Parma of Italy chucked the pasta (surprisingly, being Italian) and instead offered popcorn, chocolate and hand cream, which they served on red, white and blue plates. They distracted their subjects by asking them to rate the sweetness of the popcorn, nuttiness of the chocolate and creaminess of the hand cream, all the while just measuring how much they consumed (Never trust a scientist).
Regardless of enjoyment, testers ate less and tried less hand cream when they were handed red plates. Because of the earlier pasta party experiment, study author Nicola Bruno expected to see the results contingent upon differences in color intensity, "but they did not. It's really related to the color red compared to the food and cream colors," he said. Since red is usually associated with "danger and prohibition" (Think parking signs - and then remember to move your car), this might have tipped off the samplers to curb their sampling.
Adam Alter, author of Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces that Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave, offered Squid Ink another possibility. "Certain colors are also generally more appetizing than others: reds and greens are more appealing, for example, than blues and purples, which are rarely found in natural foods."
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It's possible that by making the plate more appetizing, the products appeared less so. Since plate science is still in its infancy, though, researchers aren't sure if knowing about the benefit of red plates will nullify their psychological effects. Who knows, maybe you just did yourself a grand disservice by reading this article. Thanks, science. We're all going to be fat again.
In the end, if you're trying to eat less you can try to trick yourself, but there's no shortcut for good habits and an extra dollop of willpower. In terms of hand cream, though, don't worry about it.
Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook. Benjamin Caro writes about health and travel at www.bencaro.com. Tweet @benbencaro if you want thank him for reminding you to move your car.