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.
Christine Dobrowolski is a nutritionist and whole-foods advocate.