COULD a fruit smoothie make a person more attractive? This is what students from the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus (UNMC) aim to discover.
Based on a study conducted by former UNMC Faculty of Science assistant professor`Dr Ian Stephen — which demonstrated a relationship between skin carotenoid colouration and improved facial appearance in a western population — this group of students are studying the effects of carotenoid-rich fruit drinks on skin and perceived attractiveness.
Carotenoids are natural lipophilic (soluble in fat) orange and yellow pigments present in most fruit and vegetables.
In Dr Stephen’s previous study, published in the academic journal Evolution and Human Behaviour, he found that people who ate more fruit and vegetables each day had a more golden colour to their skin which, in follow up perceptual studies, made them look healthier and by extension more attractive.
The aim of the research project is to study what effect a drink made from carrots and local tropical fruits could have on one’s appearance in a South-East Asian population and whether the volunteers looked healthier as a result.
The research, a combined effort by the Schools of Psychology and Biosciences, involves the comparison of two different drinks that are supposed to contribute to one’s health.
One group of students drank a smoothie made from carrots and a selection of underutilised Malaysian fruits while the other group received highly purified water.
The students drank either a smoothie a day or the equivalent volume of water for a duration of six weeks.
Each juice contained local Malaysian fruits such as ciku, kedondong, pulasan, dragon fruit and starfruit.
PhD student Tan Kok Wei, who is running the study, recruited 80 volunteers to take part in the six-week trial.
During that period, measurements of their body composition, dietary intake, skin colour and brightness were taken.
Although the initial data suggests significant results, these will be scored by an independent group of experts before they are published.
Dr Stephen says there are a lot of research suggesting that people who look healthier actually are healthy.
“So hopefully, we will be able to find out something about the health benefits of drinking a carotenoid rich smoothie as well as how it affects our perceived attractiveness.
“Many people tend not to drink enough water or eat enough fruit and vegetables and even fall below the recommended five portions a day.
“If we discover that a smoothie a day does measurably and demonstrably improve the appearance of our skin, hopefully that will encourage people to eat and drink more healthily,” he said.
Dr Brigitte A Graf, a nutrition scientist and an expert in bio-availability of active food ingredients, was in charge of designing the intervention product — the smoothies.
“I am interested in collaborating with psychologists because nutrition has a lot to do with psychology. My role is to monitor all the nutritional aspects of this study.
“It is important that bioactive food ingredients — in this case carotenoids — are absorbed from the food into the body. If carotenoids from our smoothie are not absorbed, they cannot travel into the skin,” she said.