Health Topics

  1. #
  2. A
  3. B
  4. C
  5. D
  6. E
  7. F
  8. G
  9. H
  10. I
  11. J
  12. K
  13. L
  14. M
  15. N
  16. O
  17. P
  18. Q
  19. R
  20. S
  21. T
  22. U
  23. V
  24. W
  25. X
  26. Y
  27. Z
Browse All Topics

Eating Better to Look Better

Public health campaigns can use vanity to improve fruit and vegetable consumption, since experiments show carotenoid phytonutrients improve the physical attractiveness of African, Asian, and Caucasian faces.

September 11, 2013 |
GD Star Rating


Supplementary Info

Sources Cited

J. E. Stewart, L. P. Newman, R. S. J. Keast. Oral sensitivity to oleic acid is associated with fat intake and body mass index. Clin Nutr 2011 30(6):838 - 844.

M. K. Spill, L. L. Birch, L. S. Roe, B. J. Rolls. Hiding vegetables to reduce energy density: An effective strategy to increase children's vegetable intake and reduce energy intake. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 2011 94(3):735 - 741.

A. D. Blatt, L. S. Roe, B. J. Rolls. Hidden vegetables: An effective strategy to reduce energy intake and increase vegetable intake in adults. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 2011 93(4):756 - 763.

R. D. Whitehead, D. Re, D. Xiao, G. Ozakinci, D. I. Perrett. You are what you eat: Within-subject increases in fruit and vegetable consumption confer beneficial skin-color changes. PLoS ONE 2012 7(3):e32988.

I. D. Stephen, V. Coetzee, M. L. Smith, D. I. Perrett. Skin blood perfusion and oxygenation colour affect perceived human health. PLoS ONE 2009 4(4):e5083.

O. Genschow, L. Reutner, M. Wänke. The color red reduces snack food and soft drink intake. Appetite 2012 58(2):699 - 702.

J. E. Stewart, R. S. J. Keast. Recent fat intake modulates fat taste sensitivity in lean and overweight subjects. Int J Obes (Lond) 2012 36(6):834 - 842.

R. M. Tucker, R. D. Mattes. Are free fatty acids effective taste stimuli in humans? Presented at the symposium

J. S. Litt, M.-J. Soobader, M. S. Turbin, J. W. Hale, M. Buchenau, J. A. Marshall. The influence of social involvement, neighborhood aesthetics, and community garden participation on fruit and vegetable consumption. Am J Public Health 2011 101(8):1466 - 1473.

R. D. Whitehead, G. Ozakinci, I. D. Stephen, D. I. Perrett. Appealing to vanity: Could potential appearance improvement motivate fruit and vegetable consumption? Am J Public Health 2012 102(2):207 - 211.

R. D. Whitehead, V. Coetzee, G. Ozakinci, D. I. Perrett. Cross-cultural effects of fruit and vegetable consumption on skin color. Am J Public Health 2012 102(2):212 - 213.

Ian D. Stephena, Vinet Coetzee, David I. Perrett. Carotenoid and melanin pigment coloration affect perceived human health. Evolution and Human Behavior 2011 32(NA):216 ­- 227.

I. D. Stephen, A. M. McKeegan. Lip colour affects perceived sex typicality and attractiveness of human faces. Perception 2010 39(8):1104 - 1110.

C. A. Blais, R. M. Pangborn, N. O. Borhani, M. F. Ferrell, R. J. Prineas, B. Laing. Effect of dietary sodium restriction on taste responses to sodium chloride: A longitudinal study. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 1986 44(2):232 - 243.

F. G. Grieve, M. W. V. Weg. Desire to eat high- and low-fat foods following a low-fat dietary intervention. J Nutr Educ Behav 2003 35(2):98 - 102.

Brian Wansink, Koert van Ittersum, James E. Painter. How descriptive food names bias sensory perceptions in restaurants. Food Quality and Preference 2005 16(NA):393­ - 400.

Brian Wansink. Changing Eating Habits on the Home Front: Lost Lessons from World War II Research . Journal of Public Policy \& Marketing 2002 21(1):90 - 99.



Images thanks to fadeevbiz via Flickr.


Inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption may kill millions around the globe every year, so the public health community is not beyond appealing to vanity. Health is intimately linked to attractiveness.

How do you tell if someone's healthy? You look for that golden glow that comes from the carotenoids in fruits and vegetables, found to increase the attractiveness of African, Asian, and Caucasian faces. Here are kind of before-and-after shots, with more and more fruits and vegetables as you go left to right. Most think the greater fruit and veggie group on the right appear healthier and more attractive.

College students going from 3 servings a day to the recommended minimum of 9 servings a day for just 6 weeks significantly improved skin color, and it's possible that even smaller dietary changes could help as well. And if we do switch to a healthier, plant-based diet, the worse we eat now, the more attractive we may become later!

Public health advocates hope that research suggesting healthy eating may "affect mate choice and sexual selection" can provide a powerful message for promoting healthy eating, towards boosting fruit and veggie intake up to 13 servings a day.

And while a rosy glow associated with cardiovascular health in the face and lips can also increase one's appearance of healthfulness and attractiveness, the color red can also reduce junk food intake. People drink less soda from cups with red stickers than from cups with blue stickers and eat less from red plates than from blue or white plates. How crazy is that? They speculate it's because our brains subconsciously are thinking "red traffic lights, stop-signs, red alert," and therefore, what are you putting in your poor body!?!

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Ariel Levitsky.

To help out on the site please email

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

I previously covered this topic in Golden Glow and Rosy Glow, though I'm so glad we now have data from people of color as well. Can't we just swallow supplements instead of salads? See my video Produce, Not Pills to Increase Physical Attractiveness.

I'm certainly not above appealing to vanity. Whatever it takes to get people healthy. Hence videos like:

50 Shades of Greens describes a similar tact to promote more plant-based eating by appealing to sexual function and performance.

For more context, check out my associated blog post: Improving Attractiveness in Six Weeks.

If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

  • Plantstrongdoc M.D.

    So red meat is actually a warning sign !

    • DanielFaster

      HaHaHa. Hot red peppers too!

  • Carol J.

    I understand what you’re saying, but didn’t understand the sentence “And the worse we now eat, the more attractive we may become!” What?

    • BarbaraH

      Yeah, that got me too. Whaa? So I paused the video and read the accompanying text and realized what he meant: “Thus, individuals with the lowest fruit and vegetable intake may enjoy the most improvement in appearance.” [assuming they start eating the recommended number of servings of fruits and vegetables.] In other words, if you start out with a horrible diet, looking terrible, you have more room for improvement than someone who doesn’t eat, or look, too bad. It’s like saying people who are one hundred pounds overweight and go on a diet can lose more weight than people who are twenty pounds overweight and go on a diet.

      • Em Crone

        Perfect explanation!!!!! Thank you :) I also paused at this point to see what he meant :)

  • Southlander

    After 71 years, I’m finally beginning to eat more fruits and veggies. However, I may be a wee bit to late for the “glow”; but I’m going to keep trying. Don and I CAN! :-))

    • Thea

      It’s never too late for the glow! Good for you and Dan on your efforts to be healthy. It’s impressive when people are willing to change habits that have built up literally over a life time. I enjoy your posts Southlander.

  • Gina

    “Red alert”, was that a Star Trek reference? Awesome.

  • Thea

    This is another great video. I have no objections, but the end of the video got me to thinking:

    Without looking at the study about how much people eat based on plate color: I’m willing to concede that it is possible that people’s consumption changes based on the plate color.

    But the researchers explanation for that difference makes no sense to me. I am under the impression that humans are particularly attracted to the color red. For example, many berries are red. We LOVE berries. And tomatoes. And red bellpeppers.

    And while not exactly proof of anything: many people have asked the dog toy company, Kong, why their products are red when dogs don’t see red. (But dogs do see yellow and blue.) The company reply: “Dogs don’t buy Kongs.” I believe the implication is that the company expects humans to buy more red Kongs than blue or yellow. I don’t know if they did any studies to back it up, but I do believe it is the prevailing street theory that humans like red. So, why would humans eat less food on a red plate?

    My tentative answer for myself: Just because humans may pay particular attention to red, does not necessarily mean that we see it as a safe color. But then I get back to those berries. My opinion: We need a lot more thought before we can feel comfortable that we have a reasonable explanation for the phenomenon.

    All of which is really beside the point of the video. :-)

  • Paleo Huntress

    In all of the pictures shown, the people look like they’ve gotten a tan. It’s been proven that we have a biological preference for tanned skin so I suspect it isn’t about the carotenoids but about the UV-induced vitamin D3.

    • Toxins

      Carotenoids can work synergystically with a tan to cause an intense “glow”. Even alone without a tan, the effects are noticeable.

      • Paleo Huntress

        If you put two people side by side I’m sure you can see the difference. When my oldest was an infant, he ate so many sweet potatoes he was actually yellow. People asked if he was sick, they didn’t seem to find it appealing.

        What I’m saying is that I think people find it more appealing when you show the same person with and without it, because they perceive it as a tan. We are biologically hardwired to find a tan appealing.

        How do you define a plant-based diet, Toxins?

        Check out these folks, they are pretty golden. They’re not eating many carotenoids though.

      • Paleo Huntress

        If you check out Dr. Greger’s source for that claim, you find that the people in the pictures did NOT consume more fruits and veggies progressively, but rather the researchers simply photoshopped their pictures. They have no idea if we prefer looking at the faces of people who eat more fruits and veggies because they didn’t look at that.

        • Toxins
          • Paleo Huntress
          • Toxins

            The study supports my argument, I am only presenting the data. If you have conflicting evidence then please share, otherwise I see no point in arguing a philosophy.

          • Paleo Huntress

            Your argument doesn’t refute my argument. Whether it’s a tan or yellow baby syndrome, we perceive it as a tan. And in many cases, the culture merely has that color skin naturally, like those Inuit pictured below who eat little or no plant food.

            Every wino has a red face and nose too, I wonder who sees that as attractive?

          • Healthy Longevity

            As pointed out by Dr. Ian Stephen in regards to the study ‘Carotenoid and melanin pigment coloration affect perceived human health’:
            “We found that, given the choice between skin colour caused by suntan and skin colour caused by carotenoids, people preferred the carotenoid skin colour, so if you want a healthier and more attractive skin colour, you are better off eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables than lying in the sun.”

  • Patrick Asselin

    Too bad the red Solo cup doesn’t reduce drinking alcohol for some folks…

  • lounge

    Are there any studies on dark circles around the eyes? Been following this site since summer with a whole food plant based diet, and no improvement. Green smoothies, even reduced sodium intake. I know it’s not genetic b/c there are those very, very rare days where I don’t have them, and then the next day they’re back. For example one day after eating at an indian buffet (which has a lot of oil and fat but lots of antioxidant spices)… the next day my face and circles were very clear.

    • IJ

      Do you itch or rub your eyes often, for example from allergies or makeup sensitivity? This can lead to minor bruising under the eyes which shows up as dark circles.

  • lounge

    Are there any studies on dark circles around the eyes? Been following this site since summer with a whole food plant based diet, and no improvement. Green smoothies, even reduced sodium intake. I know it’s not genetic b/c there are those very, very rare days where I don’t have them, and then the next day they’re back. For example one day after eating at an indian buffet (which has a lot of oil and fat but lots of antioxidant spices)… the next day my face and circles were very clear.

  • Kaleb

    In leu of the effects appearance has on personal behavior, it may be interesting to investigate the effects of veganism on eating disorders. I personally have been prone to compulsory overeating, which I feel has been somewhat cured by veganism. Maybe there have been some studies published?

    • Thea

      Kaleb: I’m not aware of enough research to be able to answer your question. However, I wanted to share a related comment. I am in the process of reading Dr. Barnard’s book titled, “Breaking the Food Seduction: The Hidden Reasons Behind Food Cravings—And 7 Steps to End Them Naturally” One of the subjects Dr. Barnard covers is how a proper vegan diet can control food cravings. I’m not sure if it is the kind of proof you are looking for. But if this subject interests you, you may want to check out the book.

      Good for you on taking your own health into your hands. Good luck!

      • Kaleb

        Thea, thank you I will check this out.

  • Christo Okulian

    wowwww so now i understand why I am crazy about my lady’s appearance and vice versa. so our vegetarian diet make us both appealing to each other (but yes of course this is one package with love) ahhahahaha

  • Arjan den Hollander

    Dear god!

    Go metric already crazy medieval/dark age Americans!
    9 – 13 servings, ounces and cups, LOL.
    Abolish those crazy cup feet and ounces already!

    Decimals have been proven to be more usefull to everybody,
    expecting the entirety of your populous to be mathematicians,
    as is needed for imperial system, is just full blown insanity!

    Are you at least teaching your kids that there is this other way of measuring that works like regular math? Its like Galileo Galilei vs the catholic church refusing to accept the new reality over there.

    A lot of good it did the church too in the end, it effectively lost its power over nations because practical observation overtook dogma.

    The longer you people wait with the switch the louder the laughs across the rest of the word. To most with any decent education across the rest of the globe your stubbornness is already worth a chuckle, just so you know.

    Anyway nice vid Dr. Greger on the skin tones.

    Regards from across the pond,
    Arjan den Hollander.

  • Imago

    People drink less from red-stickered cups than blue cups? Well Coca cola has obviously had its marketing ALL wrong for years. They could have been a REAL success if only their cans had been blue….