It really is the magic number. A new Cornell University study finds that adults prefer three food items and three different colors on their plates compared to more or less of either category, reports the journal Acta Paediatrica.
In the study, researchers presented a group of adults with photos of meals containing different combinations of foods — including up to six colors and seven foods. Participants rated the images they liked the most. Those plates that scored the largest number of votes included items such as eggs, bacon, and toast as well as steak, peas and carrots — each of which contain three foods and three colors.
“People often think that more is better, but adults instantly tend to have relatively frugal preferences for how their food is presented,” says study author Kevin Kniffin, Ph.D., of the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell. As for why it’s three and not one or two? “It would make sense from an evolutionary perspective that people would seek some measure of diversity in their diets for nutritional variety,” he says.
And that’s exactly how you can make this finding work for you (especially if you’re a picky eater): Filling your plate with three differently hued food items (making two of them some kind of produce) can make the meal seem more appealing to you so you may be more likely to choke down those good-for-you foods. Another bonus of this plan: Because the colors of foods are indicators of nutritional value, eating a variety of colors means you’ll get a variety of nutrients.
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