The key to losing weight might be as simple as mixing and matching the colors of your food and plates.

Researchers at Cornell University found that people tended to eat larger portions when the color of their food matched the color of the plate but reduced the size of the servings when the two colors contrast.

The researchers concluded that the colors created an optical illusion called the Delboeuf Illusion (named after the Belgian scientist who discovered it), in which the background influences the perception of size. Objects -- including servings of food -- tend to look bigger against contrasting backgrounds.

The report was published in the Journal of Consumer Research under this mouthful of a title: "Plate Size and Color Suggestibility: The Delboeuf Illusion's Bias on Serving and Eating Behavior." In it, researchers Brian Wansink and Koert van Ittersum describe a study involving a buffet line that was serving a choice of pasta with red tomato sauce or white Alfredo sauce. As they entered the buffet line, diners were randomly given a red plate or a white plate.

People who ended up with matching color combinations -- tomato sauce on red plates or Alfredo sauce on white plates -- served themselves portions that were 22 percent bigger than the diners who put the tomato sauce on white dishes or the Alfredo sauce on the red ones.

The study has implications beyond dieting, Wansink noted.

Want your kids to eat more peas? Try serving them on green plates.