The Psychology of Eating: Plate Colour

Think about the last meal you ate. Why did you eat what you did and what influenced how much you devoured? Of course, there are many explanations for why we consume foods in a particular way, such as habit, money, preference, time, social event, health, and hundreds more. But did you know that the colour of the plate and glassware can affect how much we eat and drink?

Getting People to Eat More

Plate colour research was initiated in hospitals and long-term care homes to determine approaches to increase the nutritional intake of patients and residents who were eating poorly. The worst colour plate for intake was white, which is, unfortunately, the colour of most plates in institutions. The best was red, followed by blue and yellow. Furthermore, researchers evaluated the shades of red and blue with paler colours leading to inadequate intakes. So vivid red is the best if you need to consume more!

Getting People to Eat Less

But what about healthy young adults? College-age, healthy weight females were randomized to either white, red, or black plates at a full buffet of delicious foods. What an enjoyable study to participate in! Compared to the white plates, the participants ate 168 more calories with the black plates and 157 more calories with the red plates. That could really add up over time. Others have demonstrated that because red means “stop”, you eat less on red cups and plates than blue ones. Does that make you wonder why Solo Cups are red?

Getting People to Buy Your Food

In a pastry study, black and white plates were used with different coloured macarons in the dreamy city of Paris, France. When green, pink, light brown, or yellow macarons were served on a white plate, the participants expected them to be greasier than if they had been served on a black plate. But for dark brown macarons, it was the opposite. The participants did not rate the crunchiness, sweetness, or creaminess as different when served on the two different coloured plates.

What about children?

For some reason, children are not influenced by plate colour. Does that make you ponder when and why that shifts when we become adults?

Culture and Plate Colour

One aspect not mentioned in these studies is the influence of culture on colour preference. For example, the colour red has different meanings throughout the world. In South Africa, red signifies that you are mourning a death, and in Chinese culture, red is seen as good luck and a necessary part of celebrations. In India, red is seen as a powerful colour with various meanings. It is not understood if the colour of plates affects dietary intake in diverse cultures.

Take Home Message

The colour of plates and cups may influence what and how much we eat and drink. Perhaps you could investigate it yourself if you work at a restaurant with a buffet table or are retailing sweet treats. Further research on this topic would be interesting, particularly with different cultures.


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