The study, which was published in the Journal of Consumer Research, was conducted by Dr. Brian Wansink and Dr. Koert van Ittersum of Cornell University. Instead of conducting their research in a controlled lab setting, both study authors took their experiment to a college reunion party.
At the party, all 60 attendees were randomly split up and instructed to serve themselves pasta with either red tomato sauce or white alfredo sauce. While standing in line, each attendee was either handed a red or white plate.
After the party-goers had finished serving themselves, all plates were weighed using hidden scales. It was found that those who served themselves food that was the same color as their plate served themselves 22 percent more food than those whose plates were a different color from their food. For example, those who chose pasta with red sauce and were given a red plate had served themselves bigger portion sizes.
The main theory behind this concept is that people serve themselves larger portions when the food is the same color as the plate because the food blends in with the background and becomes “lost” on the plate. However, white plates that hold red pasta and vice-versa make food portions appear bigger due to the contrast in color.
The researchers concluded that those who wish to manage and control their portion sizes should purchase or use plates in colors that contrast strongly with the foods they eat. This practice can allow weight-conscious individuals to exhibit better control of overall portion intake.
Adversely, plate color can help you eat larger portion sizes if your goal is to eat more of a healthier type of food. For example, if you are dedicated to increasing your intake of green vegetables, you can serve green beans and broccoli on a green plate and fill your stomach with a higher portion of vegetables than with foods that are less healthy, such as breads or red meats.