Color can have a powerful effect on our appetites. The colors we see can subconsciously motivate us to eat more or less. Understanding how colors influence eating behavior can help people make healthier choices.
How Color Affects Appetite
Research has shown that color significantly impacts how much food people consume. Visual cues affect hunger levels and trigger emotional responses that drive eating. Humans have evolved to use vision to identify food sources and assess nutritional content. While our ancestors relied on natural food colors to guide foraging, today’s processed foods use artificial dyes to stimulate overconsumption.
Color can work in the following ways to increase or decrease appetite:
- Brightness – Vibrant, saturated colors stimulate the appetite. Pale, dull colors suppress appetite.
- Warmth – Warm colors like red, orange and yellow are stimulating and can boost hunger. Cool colors like blue and green are more relaxing and curb cravings.
- Associations – Through conditioning, people associate certain colors with sweetness, sourness, or bitterness. These learned associations drive flavor expectations and food enjoyment.
Researchers have studied how colors affect the appetite both in laboratory experiments and in real-world settings like restaurants. Findings show red, orange and yellow hues consistently increase consumption of snacks and meals.
Red Increases Appetite
Of all colors, red has the strongest effect on boosting appetite. Both humans and animals are evolutionarily programmed to associate red with ripe, calorie-dense fruits and vegetables. Red also signals health and vitality in faces and skin, cueing our ancient foraging instincts.
In a 2012 study published in Appetite, researchers found that volunteers consumed significantly more pasta on red plates versus white plates. The red color subconsciously primed them to eat more.
Another study in the same journal looked at popcorn consumption in a movie theater. People ate 45% more popcorn when served in red containers compared to other colors.
Red can also influence taste perceptions. In 2016, researchers dyed white wine red using flavorless dye. Tasters described the “red” wine as having richer, sweeter flavors than the uncolored wine.
The effect extends beyond food and drink. People will eat more red M&Ms, red jelly beans, and other red-colored candies when offered an assortment of colors.
Marketers leverage these findings, using red packaging, plates, and decor to stimulate purchases and encourage overeating at fast food chains.
Yellow and Orange Boost Appetite
Like red, warm yellow and orange tones are appetite stimulants. In nature, orange and yellow signify ripe fruits and vegetables packed with nutrients.
In a Cornell University study, diners ate more pasta on orange and yellow plates versus white or red plates. Researchers concluded that yellow stimuli activates the appetite-stimulating neurotransmitter dopamine.
Bright orange packages and plates can boost consumption of chips, dips, cheese puffs and other snacks. Fast food chains like Subway and McDonald’s use yellow and orange heavily in their branding, store design and food presentation.
Blue Curbs Cravings
On the flip side, cool blue tones tend to suppress appetite. Blue is rarely found in natural foods, so we have no innate cravings associated with blue.
Multiple studies have found that people eat less when food is on blue plates or containers. For example, in a 2012 study, participants consumed 7% fewer pretzels from blue bowls compared to white bowls during snacking sessions.
Researchers hypothesize blue’s soothing effects help relaxation and satiety kick in faster. Blue may also cue memories of mold or poisonous plants, providing an instinctive deterrent to eating.
Green Also Reduces Eating
Green has similar appetite-curbing effects to blue. Foods in nature that are poisonous or unripe often have a greenish tint. Researchers speculate green unconsciously signals foods aren’t optimally ready to eat yet.
In a 2015 study, shoppers purchased fewer snacks and desserts on weeks when the items were displayed on green backgrounds. The neutral color Gray had no effect.
Another study found people drank less lemonade from green cups compared to white cups. Participants said the green coloring made the lemonade seem less appealing.
Using Color Psychology to Eat Healthier
Knowing how colors impact eating habits empowers us to make better choices. Here are some tips for leveraging color psychology to eat healthier:
- Choose blue plates, cups and tableware to curb appetite and consumption.
- Display healthy fruits in blue and green bowls and containers to boost appeal.
- Buy healthy snacks like nuts and baby carrots in blue packages.
- Avoid red, orange and yellow plates, packages and decor when tempted to overeat.
- Choose restaurants with cool-colored blue, green or neutral gray interiors over warm, stimulating colors.
- Slow down and assess true hunger when eating from red plates or packages.
Being mindful of how colors influence us provides an edge in resisting cravings and prevents overeating. While manufacturers will continue using colors to spur sales, informed consumers can make choices that support health goals.
Research clearly shows color substantially impacts eating behaviors. Warm colors like red, orange and yellow stimulate appetite and boost consumption. Cool colors like blue and green have an appetite-suppressing effect. Understanding and applying this color psychology gives us a useful tool for managing food intake.
Next time you eat, pay attention to any colored plates, packages or serving ware you use. Recognizing if colors subconsciously prime you to eat more or less will lead to better choices and healthier eating habits.
|Color||Effect on Appetite|
|Red||Increases appetite and food intake|
|Orange||Boosts appetite and stimulates overeating|
|Yellow||Stimulates appetite and food consumption|
|Green||Decreases appetite and food intake|
|Blue||Suppresses appetite and reduces consumption|