Recently, there was a study published in the Public Library of Science One (PLoS ONE) that examined the effects of eating fruits and vegetables on skin color. The researchers ran a couple of tests to see if skin color changed based on the amount of fruits and vegetables consumed and if the color changed, did it have an effect on the perceived health levels or attractiveness of the subjects.
First a little background, carotenoids are pigments found in most fruits and vegetables. They provide color and often are involved in the energy production in plants. When we eat them, they serve as great antioxidants. There are also several studies suggesting that carotenoids help improve the immune system, reduce cancer risk and turn you into a superhero (that last benefit may or may not be a made up study by mothers around the world).
Since carotenoids provide the color in plants, these researchers wanted to know if our bodies changed colors based on the amount of carotenoids we consume. They studied a few dozen students over a 6-week period. They measured the skin color at weeks 0, 3 and 6 and had the students report the amount of fruits and vegetables they consumed. They determined “that fruit and vegetable consumption changes over a six-week period are sufficient to confer measurable skin-color changes over this interval.”
Now they know that an instrument can detect changes in skin tone, but can mere mortals distinguish it and does it have an effect on perceived health and attractiveness? They took pictures of four people and used a computer to change the yellowness of their skin tones to represent what they would look like if they ate more or less fruits and vegetables. Then they showed two pictures at opposite ends of the yellowness spectrum to students and asked them to choose which was more attractive and which looked healthier. They progressively showed pictures closer to the middle of the spectrum and found “that the skin-color changes associated with fruit and vegetable consumption is seen as healthy and attractive, and is detectable at a relatively modest level of dietary change.”
It seems that increasing fruit and vegetable consumption by just a couple of servings per day can make you appear more attractive and healthy. Next time someone asks if you are yellow bellied you can proudly confirm that you are!
(Whitehead RD, Re D, Xiao D, Ozakinci G, Perrett DI (2012) You Are What You Eat: Within-Subject Increases in Fruit and Vegetable Consumption Confer Beneficial Skin-Color Changes. PLoS ONE 7(3): e32988. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.00329