Ok, so you know it’s good for you to eat loads of fruits and vegetables. But if that hasn’t been enough to get you eating more of them, maybe I can appeal to your vanity: a new study has found people who have the skin colouration typical of those with a high intake of carotenoids from fresh produce, are perceived as healthier and more attractive than those who are either pale-skinned or tanned.
Dr John McDougall likes to tell the story of how, when he was in his teens, his father noticed him checking out all the pretty girls. His dad said to him,
“Son, the reason you’re attracted to those girls is that they’re healthy.”
Naturally, teenage John scoffed at his old man and shot back,
“Dad, that’s not why I’m looking at them!”
But years later, he realised the truth of what his father was saying. Humans are biologically programmed to find healthy-looking people attractive, because a healthy mate is a better investment for our genetic material than an unhealthy one.
On a conscious level we don’t necessarily want to mate and produce offspring with every member of the opposite sex we see (although some might beg to differ, at least on the mating bit!) and of course individuals frequently choose to love people for something other than their personal appearance and health status.
However, when we form our first impressions of others, attractiveness matters; and there is a remarkable consistency across cultures and eras in what is generally rated as ‘attractive’. The features we find attractive signify good nutrition: a symmetrical face with a well-developed jaw; straight, evenly-spaced teeth; well-proportioned limbs; clear, glowing skin.
The new research, which was published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, demonstrated that people who eat more fruits and vegetables (and hence, have a higher carotenoid intake) have significantly more yellow tones in their facial skin.
When both white Brits and black South Africans were shown photographs of people with a variety of skin tones (pale, sun-tanned, carotenoid-yellow) the researchers found they were all attracted to people with the most carotenoid-hued skin.
They then instructed their research subjects to use a computer program, allowing them to manipulate the skin tones of people in photographs, with the aim of making them look as healthy as possible. Rather than make the skin appear more tanned, most subjects chose to increase the carotenoid (yellowish) tones in order to make the people in the photos look healthy.
“We found that, given the choice between skin colour caused by suntan and skin colour caused by carotenoids, people preferred the carotenoid skin colour,”
Dr. Ian Stephen, the study’s lead researcher, commented.
“So if you want a healthier and more attractive skin colour, you are better off eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables than lying in the sun.”
Dr Stephen’s co-author, Professor David Perrett, PhD also commented that in various fish and bird species, yellow colouration is a sign of good health and attractiveness to the opposite sex.
So it turns out John McDougall’s dad was way ahead of his time. We’re not so different to non-human animals. We are hard-wired to sense signs of good health in others, and to find healthier-looking people more attractive than unhealthy-looking people.
What does this mean if you’re single and looking for love, or want to revive the sparkle in your partner’s eye when he or she looks at you? Eat more carotenoid-rich red, orange and yellow fruit, and green vegetables!