Eat up those carrots …

By Michael Edmonds 11/01/2011

A paper about to be published in the journal Evolution and Human Behaviour reports that eating certain fruits and vegetables will make you more attractive. Researchers at the Universities of Bristol and St Andrews in the UK have carried out a series of studies looking at carotenoid skin pigments and how they affect the perception of attractiveness.

In their first study, participants were shown facial images and asked to manipulate skin colour to “make the face as healthy as possible.” What they discovered is that there is a preference for a yellow colouration to the skin, which corresponds to higher levels of carotenoids in the skin.

In their second study, the yellowness of the skin colour of partipicants was determined (using a spectrophotometer) and measured against the participants estimated consumption of dietary carotenoids. Foods high in carotenoids include carrots, apricots, mangoes, plums, spinach, pumpkin, watercress and broccoli. The researchers found a positive correlation between skin yellowness and carotenoid intake. Furthermore, by supplementing the daily diet of several participants with 15 mg of beta carotene per day over 2 months, there was a demonstrated increase in skin yellowness.

However, before you go racing off to the vegetable isle for a 10 kg bag of carrots, it is worth pointing out that such a modest correlation doesn’t mean two months of carrot smoothies will turn you into NZ’s next top model. Rather, eating healthy levels of carotenoid rich foods will most likely do you more good internally with the side benefit of a slightly healthier glow.

Still, as one of the papers coauthors, Ian Stephen, points out, “becoming more attractive might be a strong incentive to encourage young people to eat the fruit and veggies. Telling a young person that their fruit and vegetables may protect them from heart attacks and other chronic diseases in the distant future may not have such a relevant impact.”

0 Responses to “Eat up those carrots …”

  • “perception of attractiveness.”

    Was the perception in any way affected by the culture of the perceivers and/or the natural skin colour of the perceived?

    • That’s an interesting point. The study used a UK based Caucasian population and a black South African population. In both an increase in “yellowness” was preferred. I wonder if they will extend it to other cultures to see if the effect is consistent.
      I would have also thought that exceeding a certain tone of yellow would be perceived as unhealthy as it would suggest jaundice.

  • Had a friend who, during pregnancy, just could’t get enough carrots 🙂 She ended up with a very definite orange glow which for some reason was most pronounced on the palms of her hands. (She never did say whether her husband found this attractive…)

  • Why does this topic remind me of the blue man?

    More seriously, I have a feeling this study couldn’t distinguish if being mildly tanned was appealing v. being pale, rather what food your ate. (Do they control for this in the work?)

    On that note, being pale was considered attractive in European cultures once – witness the use of zinc oxide creams on those ever so pale ladies of England (and elsewhere) in times gone by, or earlier times using lead-based creams (not the most healthy option…)

    Point being, you’d suspect this preference may be cultural rather than biological and reflect present-day preferences—?