How Your Brain Uses Color to Decide What to Eat

There’s a reason why all those brightly colored fruits and veggies in the produce section of your local grocery store look so good. According to a new study from the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA), our brains evolved to rely on vision — specifically color — to choose the foods we decide to eat.

While other mammals primarily use their sense of smell to find food, humans are different. Sight is the number one sense we use to guess how much nutrition we might be able to get out of a particular type of food.

So every time you find yourself visually scanning food items at the grocery store, in the photos you see on a restaurant menu, or even in your own refrigerator, your decision is actually being influenced by thousands and thousands of years of human brain evolution. Here’s what researchers discovered about how we make food choices.

1. The brain uses a “color code” to look for calorie density.

Humans have a trichromatic visual system, meaning that we have three different channels for color identification — more than animals with monochromatic and dichromatic visual systems. According to the researchers, we’re particularly good at distinguishing the color red from the color green, and this distinction sets the foundation for the brain’s internal color code, which it uses to decide which foods are best.

2. The color red signifies high nutritional content.

When it comes to choosing the best foods, humans evolved to look for foods that were calorie-dense and high in protein. In natural foods, we recognize red as an indicator of calorie density, and while this helped our ancient ancestors thousands of years ago who had to forage for fruits and vegetables, our brains still work the same way today. Subjects who were involved in the researchers’ experiments ended up judging foods with redder colors as being higher in calories.

3. The color green signifies low nutritional content.

If red means more calories, then green would mean just the opposite. The subjects involved in the study experiments judged natural foods that were green as lower in calories. In other words, we’re evolutionary wired to prefer foods that fall closer to the red end of the color spectrum over foods that are more green in color.

4. Cooked foods are preferred over raw foods.

Interestingly, the preference for red colored foods over green colored foods is still present when it comes to cooked foods too — even though color becomes a less effective indicator of calorie density. The researchers say this represents a small bit of proof that our ancient color coding system for food is still present and working within the mechanisms of our brains today, from a time before humans started cooking their food. Today, we tend to favor cooked foods over raw foods because we can get more nutritional content out of smaller quantities compared to raw foods.

5. The brain’s internal color code only applies to food.

The researchers’ experiments revealed that when it comes to giving preference to the color red over green, this preference doesn’t apply to inedible objects. Humans have to be able to identify an object in front of them as food in order for the brain to activate its color coding system and start giving preference to those foods that are more red and less green.

Only a few other studies have looked at the link between color and food choices. The researchers say that their findings could offer new ways to help people make healthier food choices.

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Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Jack Y
Jack Y3 months ago


Jack Y
Jack Y3 months ago


natasha p
.about a year ago


Jim V
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for sharing.

Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran2 years ago


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Tanya W.
Tanya W2 years ago


Edith B.
Edith B2 years ago


Jane R.
Jane R2 years ago

The color of food makes no difference to me. I eat what I know I like.

Effra W.
Deborah W2 years ago

Thanks for sharing. I often choose a coloured vegetable because I haven't eaten that colour recently. I wonder what all the beige-coloured processed food is about.