Does Red Equal Well Fed?

Does Red Equal Well Fed?

A new study suggests that humans naturally choose red foods over other colors of foods.


You hear a lot about leafy greens, and the importance of eating foods such as spinach and broccoli, yet interestingly, left to its own devices, human brain seems to pick red colored foods over other hues.

A study recently published in the journal Scientific Reports posits that vision, rather than smell or taste, is the sense humans use most to determine what to eat. According to the researchers’ theory, the human visual system has evolved to easily spot foods such as berries, fruits and vegetables out of a background of other, less nutritious foliage, and we are therefore particularly good at distinguishing red from green.

“In natural foods, color is a good predictor of calories,” wrote Francesco Foroni, a researcher with the International School for Advanced Studies in Trieste and first author of the study. “The redder an unprocessed food is, the more likely it is to be nutritious, while green foods tend to be low in calories.”

Participants in the study that led to the theory were able to judge foods that had colors tending toward red as higher in calorie density, and that the green foods had lower amounts of calories. A preference for red over green was not observed with non-edible objects, suggesting the color code for the visual system kicks in only with food stimuli.

Based on this research, the study authors suggest that when it comes to public health messages, food color could be part of the way to encourage healthy food choices.

If all this talk about red food has you in the mood to put some nutritious, red treats onto your plate, try these ruby-hued wonders:

  • Cherries, dried or fresh
  • Cranberries, dried or in a compote
  • Red beets
  • Tomatoes, fresh or in a sauce
  • Red lentils
  • Red grapes
  • Red potatoes
  • Red grapefruit
  • Red onions

All are nutritional powerhouses that will help fill you up, while providing health benefits in addition to color for the table.

Kathryn Drury Wagner is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. Her latest book is Hawaii’s Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!, a science and natural history “gross out” for young readers.

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