Color Your Plate.

Imagine that just after you’ve enjoyed a decadent meal of gourmet steak and roasted potatoes, the dim restaurant lights brighten to reveal the steak’s true color — bluish — and the potato’s — greenish. That’s what happened in a study conducted in the 1970s, journalist Eric Schlosser writes in his book “Fast Food Nation.” Upon recognizing the “off” color of the food, numerous people who consumed it became ill. That’s because food color can have a significant effect on perception of food and, potentially, on mood. Restaurants and food manufacturers use the technique to their benefit — and so can you.

“People seem to eat for two major reasons,” said licensed psychotherapist and author Karen Koenig. “One is excitatory, where we want to be more engaged, more focused. We’re seeking pleasure and passion. The other is inhibitory. We are already feeling too much, so we want to relax, soothe and contain.”

Koenig suggests asking yourself at the start of a meal what you hope to gain emotionally and then surrounding yourself with a color or eating food of a color that stimulates that emotion. Doing so promotes mindful eating, which can lead to improved portion control, digestion, gratitude and pleasure.

A diet of colorful foods may also improve your health if you choose primarily natural, whole foods. Joni Rampolla, a dietitian in Maryland, encourages her clients to choose foods in a variety of colors. “Each color provides different nutrients, so only with color can you be sure you are getting all of the nutrients your body needs,” she said. “A colorful diet may help prevent the risk of some cancers or chronic diseases.”

Artificially colored food, however, can disrupt your efforts to tap the benefits of a natural, well-balanced diet. In “The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite,” former Food and Drug Administration commissioner David Kessler relays an anecdote about a successful journalist and self-proclaimed overeater who once told him that “all the rational thoughts in the world can’t compete with the color and expectation of an M&M.”

To fight the allure of color-rich but nutrition-poor processed foods, keep in mind that eating salt, sugar and fat does nothing but increase your desire for salt, sugar and fat. If you aren’t yet sold on healthy fare, broadening the palette of natural colors on your plate may help.

“People seem to eat for two major reasons. One is excitatory, the other is inhibitory.”

Psychotherapist Karen Koenig

Blissful Blue (And Similar Hues)

If you’re feeling blue, the color blue may help soothe you. If you tend to overeat or experience anxiety before a particular meal, Koenig suggests using blue plates, cups or napkins for reduced portion sizes and heightened calm.

While relatively few foods are naturally blue or purple, those that are offer mighty benefits. “Eggplant, blueberries and blackberries help maintain a lower risk of some cancers,” Rampolla said. They also promote urinary tract health and memory function.

Go for the Gold

After reading that restaurateurs use yellow tones to stimulate memory awareness and perception, and even to raise pulse rates, Koenig began taking note. “Not all restaurants I dine in use gold, but I’d say 75 percent of them do,” she said.

Regardless of what color you’re surrounded by when dining, consider the benefits of incorporating the yellow/gold color scheme into your diet. Orange and yellow foods, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, apricots, mangoes and pumpkin, contain rich amounts of the antioxidant beta carotene and may enhance your cardiovascular health, immune system and vision while lowering your risk for certain forms of cancer. Pineapples, citrus fruits and winter squash supply ample vitamin C.

Green Giants

“Eat your greens” is advice worth applying and, indeed, their benefits are giant. According to the American Dietetic Association, the substances responsible for adding green to fruits and vegetables provide promote healthy vision and lower the risk of cancer. Dark, leafy greens, such as kale and spinach, contain valuable amounts of iron, which many women are deficient in at some point, and calcium, which is vital for bone health. Other healthy options include avocados, apples, grapes, kiwi, asparagus, honeydew, limes, broccoli, brussels sprouts, green beans and bell peppers.

According to a report published in the “College Student Journal” in 2004 that analyzed college students’ responses to various colors, green evokes primarily positive emotions, such as comfort, relaxation and associations with nature. Green-yellow, on the other hand, was linked with feelings of sickness and disgust. To avoid the latter, opt for fresh, ripe, bright or deep-green produce over canned asparagus or yellowish broccoli.

Don’t sabotage your efforts by eating greens that are prepared in an unhealthy manner. While conducting research for his book, Kessler discovered that the greens he ordered at a favorite Japanese restaurant weren’t the prime healthy dish he had assumed.

“I realized I was more likely to be served green beans that had been deep-fried in an oil-wok,” he explained. So, keep in mind that while a leafy green salad is a light, nutritious choice, those benefits are wiped out if it’s doused in creamy, high-fat salad dressing or topped with bacon and cheese. Some M&Ms are green, after all.

Red Hot

If you’re nervous about a job interview, feeling uninspired or find that your appetite has disappeared along with your normally happy disposition, eating red foods or dining in red environments may help.

“Red grabs your attention and can stimulate your appetite, which makes it a good color for a plate or dining area,” Rampolla said. Consider how many fast-food and sit-down restaurants use the color, often paired with gold, to nab your attention and your appetite.

On the nutrition side, the antioxidants lycopene and beta carotene in red fruits such as strawberries, raspberries and tomatoes, and in vegetables such as rhubarb, beats and radishes, can boost your immune system and provide protection from illnesses, including urinary tract infections and, particularly in the case of tomatoes, prostate cancer.


Last updated on: Mar 16, 2011