Last updated June 1, 2017 at 10:12 am
Eating your fruit and veg just got a whole lot more attractive.
Look no further if you need more evidence that fruits and vegetables are good for you – not only do they reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke and cardiovascular disease, they may actually affect how healthy and attractive you look.
Researchers at the University of Newcastle and the University of St Andrews, Scotland, found that faces containing higher levels of carotenoid, the class of pigments that give a yellow colour to the skin, were more attractive than faces with higher levels of melanin, the pigment responsible for tanning.
In humans, skin colour is dependent on different amounts of the three main pigments: haemoglobin, the protein which binds oxygen to blood; melanin, which is produced after exposure to UV light; and carotenoids, which come from the fruits and vegetables that we eat. Carotenoids are also produced in algae and bacteria, but these are definitely less edible than the usual produce you find in your local grocery store.
The study looked at the effects of changing the levels of carotenoid in the skin versus changing the levels of melanin on perceived attractiveness. In previous studies, it was shown that increasing the amount of vegetables and fruit eaten also increased skin yellowness and redness. With this study, the researchers wanted to know whether young Australians found the results of eating healthily outweighed the effects of tanning when it came to attractiveness – an interesting question, considering how the image of a tanned, svelte body is synonymous with the Australian ideal of beauty.
In the study, 57 subjects between the ages of 22 to 35 were asked about their fruit and vegetable intake. Sixty-seven percent of participants reported not eating the recommended number of servings of fruit and vegetables a day. Of the general population, only 41% of people eat 2 servings of fruit a day, and a shocking 3% of people eat enough servings of vegetables. It kind of makes you want to start shoveling down some peas and carrots, doesn’t it?
The subjects looked at 50 faces of Caucasian men and women and were asked to change the colour of the faces to look as healthy as possible. In the first two parts of the experiment, they changed either the yellowness (which coincided with carotenoid levels) or the brownness (coinciding with melanin levels) of the faces. The third part allowed them to change both pigment levels simultaneously – and in each case, the researchers found a preference for higher levels of carotenoid. For male faces, the increase in the level of carotenoids was equivalent to 5.6 servings of fruit and vegetables, while for female faces, it was equivalent to 7.4 servings. Time to get eating, folks!
The researchers concluded that while the skin colouration associated with both high carotenoid intake from eating fruit and vegetables and increased melanin production from spending time in the sun were considered to be attractive, colouration from a healthier diet had a greater effect on attractiveness. They did, however, mention that since most of the subjects were nursing students, they may already have a bias towards healthier eating habits. Which doesn’t mean you should keep chowing down on your fries and burgers – no matter how hot it makes you look, upping your fruit and vegetable intake will still help reduce your risk of cancer, cataracts, Alzheimer’s and counteract some of the effects of aging.
This research could also help shift the attitude away from tanning. Melanoma is the fourth most diagnosed cancer in Australia and caused an estimated 1,839 deaths in 2017. So the message to young Australians may one day be that if you really want to look attractive, what you should do is cook up a delicious salad. Plus, you can let your mum know that you’re finally doing what she’s always told you to do – eat more fruit and veggies!
Check out the research for yourself here.