Are You Genetically Programmed To Pick Red Meats Over Green Vegetables?


When we were children, most of us turned meals into a battle ground. While we were happy to scarf down the protein (i.e meat) parts of our meals, we absolutely whole heartedly refused to eat our vegetables. Our poor parents were reduced to playing games, holding their heads in despair and practically force feeding us to get us to eat them.

A recent study conducted by researchers at the International School for Advanced Studies in Trieste has found that we may be genetically wired to choose red foods over green, explaining our aversion to vegetables like broccoli, spinach and (horror of all horrors) karela.

The Study

The researchers showed 68 participants both food and non-food images and asked them to rate their motivation towards each image. For each food picture, participants were also asked to guess an approximate calorie count of the dish.

The results showed that the participants showed no color preferences for non food images but rated red foods like spaghetti Bolognese higher than green foods.

According to the study researchers, this suggested that “participants were biased towards attributing significantly less energy to greener food even when actual calorie content was controlled for.”

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Evolution The Answer?

The researchers suggest that this finding is because our ancestors saw red foods as better nutritional choices as they had a higher energy content and amount of calories.

While this makes sense when meat is considered, the researchers also added that humans would prefer red fruits and vegetables over green. ‘According to some theories, our visual system evolved to easily identify particularly nutritious berries, fruits and vegetables from jungle foliage,’ said Raffaella Rumiati, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience and coordinator of the new study.

When it comes to cooked foods, the researchers argue that the same results will come into play, despite the nutritious value of red versus green foods changing after being cooked. Rumiati concluded: “With cooked foods, the dominance of red over green no longer provides reliable information, which might lead us to believe that the brain would not apply the rule to processed foods. On the contrary, it does, which hints at the presence of ancient evolutionary mechanisms from before the introduction of cooking.”

Red Versus Green In Present Day

However, it’s important to realise that our brains may be evolutionary attuned to a diet which does not match our needs today. More and more people in the world now have a sedentary lifestyles and do not need the added calories that would have helped their ancestors get the energy needed for hunting and gathering.

Therefore, today is may be wiser to pick green over red; despite what your brain is telling you. What do you think?

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