Researchers at Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab found that diners will eat almost 20% more food if the color of their food matches the color of their plate (1). To study the effect of plate color on food consumption, sixty Cornell alumni were invited to dine on a free pasta lunch. The unsuspecting diners were given a white plate or a red plate and directed to a buffet of pasta with Alfredo sauce or a buffet of pasta with marinara sauce. Their plates were secretly weighed after eating.
When diners served themselves white pasta on a white plate, or red pasta on a red plate, they consumed 18% more than diners eating pasta that contrasted their plate color. Diners consistently served themselves more pasta when there was less contrast between the color of their food and their plate.
Although the amount eaten was not assessed in this study, another study by Dr. Brian Wansink found adults eat most of the meal they are served. In a variety of eating conditions studied, researchers found that adults consume about 92% of what is on their plates at meal time (2). If we serve ourselves more, we eat more.
Simple changes to our eating environment can change our eating behavior (3). It's much easier to change our food environment than change our eating habits.
The way plants and animals are bred, grown, stored, processed, packaged, shipped and prepared impacts the naturally occurring nutrients in those foods. A low-fat, all-natural food product may imply “healthy and fresh”, yet the food contained in that product is merely a shadow of it's former self. Once a whole food is disassembled, extruded, emulsified, macerated, liquefied, pasteurized and/or irradiated, it's reassembled, many times into a playful shapes and sold with a bright and bold "natural and healthy" label. Food processing is not the only factor affecting the food we eat.
Plant breeders have bred sugar in and nutrients out of plants (1). Many of the nutrients lost in this process are phytonutrients, also known as phytochemicals. Every plant naturally produces several hundred phytonutrients. These naturally occurring plant chemicals are involved in cell communication, metabolism and enzyme function. Phytonutrients protect us from damaging free radicals, promote healthy cholesterol levels and inhibit tumor growth (2). As a result, plant food has more sugar and fewer phytonutrients before it even reaches the manufacturing plant.
Chickens are bred and raised to have large breasts, but not flavor. The hard, bland chicken meat of today has not only lost flavor, but also nutrients (3). Both animals and plants are disassembled and then reassembled to create a product appealing to consumers. With every step of processing, naturally occurring nutrients are lost (4). As nutrients are lost, flavors and other food additives are added in (3, 5). Food additives can negatively impact our health. Artificial sweeteners are popular food additives and may actually lead to (as opposed to prevent) obesity and obesity related diseases, such as diabetes (6).
The packaging used to keep these products fresh and safe contains substances that can migrate into foods and beverages (7). Canning results in substantial nutrient loss (8). Loss of nutrients and the addition of synthetic chemicals to our food can impact our health. For example, exposure to the synthetic estrogen bisphenol-A (BPA), found in the lining of canned food, is associated with an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and obesity (9).
Different types of food preparation methods result in nutrient loss. For example, boiling and frying has been shown to cause significant losses of vitamin C and chlorophyll (10).
The type of food we eat changes the type of microorganisms existing in our gut. Researchers demonstrated that consumption of artificial sweeteners change the type of the microorganisms in the gut and this change is associated with metabolic diseases, such as prediabetes (6).
Our complex food system has had an impact on our food and our health. This blog will explore the factors affecting what we eat and how those factors impact our health.
Christine Dobrowolski is a nutritionist and whole-foods advocate.