We are what we eat but what if what we eat is dependant on how it looks like?
In the modern visually-dominated world, it's no secret that many of us think about looks on a daily basis. However, a team of marketing professors at San Diego State University has turned this idea even further, explaining how your eyes can manipulate your food choices.
Yes, your eyes – not your taste buds – might influence what you wish to eat.
When it comes to food, looks matter
The world is quickly heading towards a worldwide health crisis as more and more people are battling with obesity and food-induced health problems. As the World Health Organization has noted, 39 percent of all adults in the world are overweight.
In a recent report from the San Diego State University, associate professor Dr. Morgan Poor explained how even just a picture of a food item can trigger an emotional response and influence your actions. For example, seeing a picture of a hamburger might make you dream about the hamburger's taste and smell.
SDSU professors have explored this idea further in recent research published in the “Journal of Business Research”. According to their findings, people might be more interested in buying and eating healthy food if that food is related to pleasant emotions – similarly to how hamburgers can trigger positive emotions when we see a picture of a burger.
As strange as it seems, your brain might be more easily tricked into eating healthy foods if those foods resemble junk food in some way. To increase the sales of baby carrots, Bolthouse Farms avoided emphasizing the healthy qualities of the carrots and instead, focused on the bright orange color, crispy texture and the nice crinkly sound of the packaging that resembles chips, as SDSU researchers pointed out. This strategy led to an increase in sales of over 10 percent.
Bolthouse Farms is not the first to opt for such a strategy. On a larger scale, there's somewhat of a “food war” going on between junk food and healthy food. Healthy food has been marketed for years as a healthy option that's simply good for you but that's not enough for your brain to start saying ‘yay' to carrots and ‘nay' to Cheetos.
The key to healthy food's possible win in this race could be understanding the sensory effects, e.g. what message gets sent to your brain when your eyes see certain food items.
Junk food packaging makes you happy
Packaging is one of the key aspects that might make your brain prefer junk food over healthy food. As University of Cambridge neuroscientist Wolfram Schultz noted in a recent study, the bright packaging used to market junk food can even release dopamine, so your brain simply considers that food to be a great option for you. After all, seeing it makes you feel happier.
Not only is there a strong proven connection between your eyes translating the junk food packages into something good, you've probably experienced that while walking in the supermarket's aisles. Let's be honest – that pack of skittles is far more attractive than apples. Though similar in nature, Layz is far more likely to catch your attention and create a craving in your brain than plain potatoes are.
Schultz goes even so far as to say that junk food should be marketed in plain packages – similarly to cigarettes – so they wouldn't attract people so heavily.
The attractive packaging has solely been created for the purpose of luring you into buying more junk food. Your brain, unfortunately, responds to that easily and influences you into actually consuming junk food more.
So how to combat that if you have to see all of those pretty packages every time you go grocery shopping? Well, to start with, you need to rewire your brain by knowingly avoiding junk food aisles and shopping only according to a specific shopping list.
Even if you do buy sweets or other junk food items, it might be worth to take them out of their packaging and simply put them into a bowl, so your brain wouldn't constantly receive the sensory signals.
Time and money: the two evergreen obstacles on the way of becoming more healthy
Besides possible sensory effects, the recent report brought out two other essential parts in the healthy food puzzle: time and money. Many people simply opt for junk food since it's so much easier and quicker than actually going to the grocery store, buying vegetables and other fresh products and then assembling all of that into a healthy meal. People have less and less time, so health gets simply put aside.
However, as the research concluded, money is the primary obstacle. Besides having to buy fresh produce, many people in low-income communities simply lack access to a decent selection of fresh produce. Small corner stores tend to lack the selection needed and therefore, many just opt for pre-made meals and junk food.
Though the United States Department of Agriculture has set minimum stocking requirements, current research suggests that smaller stores simply cannot meet the requirements sufficiently enough, leading to local people struggling with maintaining a healthy diet.
Could we start eating bugs if they would look “prettier”?
Scientists are constantly looking for new sustainable food sources that would provide people enough nutrition. One such option is bugs.
Yes, you read that right – bugs.
While it sounds unbelievable to imagine bugs appearing in American restaurants, they actually have a significant part in several other cultures where ants, grasshoppers, and crickets are eaten as a way to get low-fat protein easily. Many edible insects are very high in protein, iron and other nutrients, not to even mention their low cost and sustainability.
Scientists believe that if bugs could be presented in an attractive way, it could be a completely viable option for American food plates.
How to trick your brain by introducing “pretty” food into your diet?
While science is confirming more and more how your food's attractiveness influences your choices and marketers all over the world are trying to make their food appear more attractive, what can you do to make healthier choices?
Well, for one, you can start tricking your brain by preparing more attractive food. Often, the key to that lies in colors.
For example, regular oatmeal isn't really “pretty”, so your brain might not be visually triggered by a bowl of nice healthy oatmeal. However, if you add some colorful berries, things change completely.
Partially, colors are the reason why dieters find it easier to keep their eating habits healthy if they consume more smoothies, fruit salads and other colorful options.
Healthy habits might not come easily if you're constantly lured by the “attractive” junk food but if you start rewiring your brain into liking healthy food instead, you've made one essential step towards better health.