They say that people prefer food depending on its looks, so plating is an important part of foodservice. Sometimes, food manufacturers use a trick to make their food look delicious, even if they are not healthy. Likewise, healthy foods need not always be attractive to the eyes.

A new paper published in the Journal of Marketing by Linda Hagen, a researcher from the University of Southern California, explores how attractive food might look healthier to consumers. Her study is entitled "Pretty Healthy Food: How and When Aesthetics Enhance Perceived Healthiness.

Food as an artwork

According to a report by, consumers see almost 7,000 food and restaurant advertisements annually touting fast food. They make their food products pretty as part of their marketing strategy.

For example, a beautiful pizza on a billboard displays a perfect circle of crust with evenly allocated pepperoni and melted cheese. This type of advertising hopes to elicit a response from the consumers, which is buying their food based on how it appears in the advertisement. However, sometimes pretty aesthetics have other potential problems, especially as it affects how people see food.

On the other hand, people get to eat first with their eyes, associating it with pleasure and indulgence. These days people tend to take photos of everything they eat, wear, and do.

Having "Instagrammable" food on the plate gives them the pleasure and sense of being in the trend. Studies show that many people now prefer to buy things that are social media-worthy because of its design.

But going back to food, the link of pleasure from the pretty food seems to be unhealthy because people only see pleasure and usefulness as mutually exclusive. They have a general perception that pretty is also healthy or tasty, even if it is not.

Moreover, food that displays more nature-like or classical visuals like having order, symmetry, and systematic patterns, which are commonly found in nature, depicts that the food is more natural and, therefore, healthier because they tend to think of organic food or natural remedies. By reflecting nature into the food design, consumers may believe that it is healthier when it is pretty.

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Food perception affects consumer behavior

These healthiness judgment based on aesthetics can affect consumer behavior. People would spend more money on a pretty bell pepper than an ugly one because they are led to believe that pretty is equals to healthy.

Moreover, a study showed that when people are given financial incentives to correctly identify which of the two foods have lower calories. The consumers are most likely to choose the pretty ones than the ugly food even though they would lose more money from their choice.

But according to experts, these pretty equals healthy is limited to classical aesthetics and can be muted by adding a disclaimer next to the food that it was artificially modified. Ultimately, the effect of classical aesthetics has a significant impact on marketers and public health advocates.

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