Nutrition: color cues

A game of red light-green light might improve your eating habits. In a new study conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital’s main cafeteria, tagging foods with red, yellow, or green stickers and placing wholesome “green” foods at eye level made diners less likely to reach for unhealthy options. Why? We’ve been conditioned to react to these hues – whether that means hitting the brakes or dropping the cookie. Here’s how to put that reaction to work in your own kitchen.

Shelf Service

Establish red, yellow, and green shelves in your pantry and fridge using colored tape (or masking tape you’ve colored with a marker). Make sure the green shelf is easy to see and reach and the red shelf is the most difficult to access.

The Danger Zone

Whether or not you use color-coding, foods with more than two grams of saturated fat or 200 calories per serving (think cookies and chips) should be kept on a high shelf. The time it takes to pull out the step stool “makes you think about what you’re doing rather than just eating mindlessly.

The Middle Ground

Foods that fall into the yellow category are those that have less than two grams of saturated fat and 200 calories per serving, such as pretzels, multigrain chips, and peanut butter. Situate these middle-of-the-road pantry items so that they’re reachable but out of your direct line of sight when you open the cabinet door.

The Healthy Haven

A food qualifies are green if it’s a fruit or vegetable, is made from whole grain, or is composed mostly of lean protein or low-fat dairy. These good-for-you bites should be the first thing you see when you open the refrigerator or cupboard. (Also try keeping fresh fruit, washed, in a bowl on the counter for easy access). Color-coding isn’t just for dieters. Incorporating this red-yellow-green program into your home allows you to teach your kids about nutrition without having to lecture about it.

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