Both chefs and grandmothers have said for generations that we eat with our eyes first — if a meal looks delicious, you’ll enjoy it even more. Scientific studies have said the same thing, but now science explains why good-looking food — or even images of good-looking food — can make bland or otherwise subpar dishes taste better and feel more satisfying, just in time for you to hack your next diet meal.
A new study, reviewed and published by a team of Swiss and Japanese researchers (full text at PLos One), points out that when we see delicious food, specifically fatty and succulent foods, the part of the brain responsible for providing the feedback we interpret as pleasant, positive experiences associated with taste fires up. Then, regardless of the actual quality of the food you eat afterward, your brain interprets it as tastier, more delicious food than you would if you didn’t see those images or if the food weren’t dressed up so well. Specifically, the study says:
When viewing high-calorie food images, participants reported the subsequent taste to be more pleasant than when low-calorie food images preceded the identical taste. Moreover, the taste-evoked neural activity was stronger in the bilateral insula and the adjacent frontal operculum (FOP) within 100 ms after taste onset when preceded by high- versus low-calorie cues.
The researchers studied both good-looking plates and pictures of food and found the response was similar in both cases, meaning even looking at pictures of tasty food can make otherwise less flavourful food seem better. So if you’re eating a diet version of one of your fatty favourites, it can help to dress it up so it looks nice, or even look at pictures of the fattier option before you dig in.
It’s worth mentioning that the researchers were working for the Nestlé Research Center, and while the study’s results have been reviewed and released publicly, companies like Nestlé are probably interested in the research in order to improve their food marketing and advertising efforts. While they do that, you can use the same data to hack your diet with clever plating and a few photographs. What do you think? Scientific proof of something you’ve always known, or are you sceptical? Whatever you think, let us know in the comments.