The major influencer for eating is hunger. However, deciding on what to eat is not solely determined by our physical needs, but on many other physiological, psychological and socio-economic factors.
How do you choose the food you eat?
In today’s era, we are bombarded with so many information, including about the food we eat. Some health experts suggest that certain foods are healthy, others say that they are not. Which makes it very confusing and overwhelming for the average person when it comes to deciding which food to include in their nutritional plan. Whose advice should you take?
When choosing what to eat we are influenced by many internal and external factors, which rarely have much to do with the food itself. Whether we make those choices consciously or unconsciously, here are a few of the factors which have major impact on the decisions we make when choosing our food:
It’s one of the most obvious factors which has great influence on choosing one type of food over another. The term taste does not only refers to the way food tastes, but also includes the smell, appearance and texture of the food. Usually, foods that are rich and delicious are more appealing to people.
Taste preferences and aversions towards certain foods are influenced by our genetics, physiology, metabolism, age, and overall food experience we have throughout our life.
However, the good thing about our taste sensors is that they are highly trainable and adaptable. This is great news for people who are trying to make lifestyle changes, but do not like the taste or texture of certain foods. With small alterations, which don’t result in significant taste change, you can train your taste sensors to adapt to new foods.
If you are not big fan of leafy greens, or the taste of ginger, turmeric, wheat grass is to strong for you, or any other vegetable, or spice, which you know is beneficial for your health, try adding small amounts of it in your smoothie or food you eat. Then give your taste buds a few weeks to adapt to the new addition. When that happens you can add a bit more, or introduce another spice or ingredient in your meal. This is how I trained my taste buds for my morning detox water. I started by adding dash of ginger and turmeric powder, ½ tbsp of lemon juice and apple cider vinegar in a cup of water and drink it first thing in the morning. At the beginning it was horrible. I used to chug it very fast and then drink another glass of water afterwards, just to get rid of the burning sensation in my mouth and throat. Eventually, my taste sensors adapted to the taste and today I drink my detox water with ⅛ tsp of ginger and turmeric powder, and 1 tbsp of lemon juice and apple cider vinegar.
You can do the same with gradually removing the harmful foods from your diet. Years ago I used to drink my coffee with 2 tsp of sugar and milk/cream. When I decided to remove all unnatural sugars from my nutrition, I started with gradually lowering the amount of sugar and milk I was using in my coffee. I began with 1 ½ tsp, then 1 tsp, and so on. Today I take my coffee black or bulletproof, with coconut oil and cinnamon.
Each culture has different traditions, is more inclined of consuming some foods more over another, and promotes different styles of food preparation. The experiences of growing up in certain culture, often times influences the food we choose to eat. Our cultural background highly impacts our preferences and tastes for certain foods, as well as our eating habits. This seems to be result of our learned experiences as we grow up.
However, the cultural influences on the food choices are amenable to change, especially if someone lives in a multicultural setting, or when traveling and moving to a region or country which has different culture.
The people we surround ourselves with have huge impact on our food choices, regardless of our awareness about it. Social support, from family and friends, is highly beneficial especially when someone is working on eating healthier and developing healthy habits. Studies (1234) show that being surrounded by people who are supportive when one is going through lifestyle transformation, has great influence of developing sustainable healthy habits and making healthier nutritional choices.
Economic status and food cost
The cost of food and the socio-economic status are correlated and without doubt one of the most influential factors when it comes to food choices. Although low-income families have higher tendency to choosing low-density foods, including very little fruits and vegetables in their nutrition, higher income does not necessarily better nutritional choices. However, with higher income, the range and quality of foods one can afford are increasing.
Marketing has significant influence on the food choices we make as consumers. This includes the marketing campaigns promoting specific food products or diets, as well as the recommendations we receive from the people in our surroundings (family, friends and coworkers). The degree by which we get affected by the marketing campaigns highly depends on the level of trust we have in the company or the person who’s making the recommendation. We have higher tendency to apply the recommendations suggested by people and companies we trust. Many companies take this into consideration when advertising their products, by using celebrity people in their ads and marketing campaigns. In addition, they also use music, catchy phrases and attractive colors, to make the food or product more appealing to people. These visual effects of the ads unconsciously impact our decision making process.
A study conducted by researchers from Michigan State University found that the part of the brain that previously was thought to be only responsible for processing visual information, is actually involved in the decision making process.
Another study conducted by researchers at Iowa State University confirms the results from the previous. This study found that showing a rotating image of salad on digital display along with menu information, increased salad consumption among the kids as much as 90%.
The teachings about the healing power of food go back to Hippocrates, the father of medicine. You’ve probably heard his famous saying “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” Improving the patient’s diet, was one of the primary form of treatment he used.
Today it is recognized that our mood and the food we eat interchangeably influence one another. The way we feel impacts the food we choose to eat, and the food we eat also affects the way we feel.
A study conducted about how mood influences food choices, found that people who have positive mood tend to choose healthier foods, while people who are in negative mood have greater preference for indulgent foods. The researchers conducted four different studies, and concluded that when people are in a bad mood they tend to focus more on the here and now, and the sensory qualities of the food.On the other hand, when they are in a good mood and things seem to be ok, they can take a big picture perspective and focus on the more abstract aspects of food, like how healthy and nutritious the food is.
Many studies suggest that certain mood related conditions can be managed with making changes in the nutritional habits, like focusing on eating whole foods.
When people consider themselves to be healthy they usually don’t pay much attention to the food they eat or the way that food is prepared. However, when a person, or someone in their family is diagnosed with certain condition or disease, raises the question of the nutritional and lifestyle habits the person has. Depending on the condition, physicians often time recommend avoiding certain foods which can worsen the condition, and consuming foods rich in nutrients, as well as making other lifestyle changes to aid in the recovery process.
Health issues can be an awakening call for many people. They can bring awareness to what our priorities in life are, and help us become more conscious and mindful when choosing our meals. This was the case with me.
I, personally, haven’t had any major health issues, and never paid much attention to the food I was eating. It was when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer about 5 years ago, when I started to educate myself on how the food we eat impacts our health. It’s been a long journey since then, and I still strive to learn more each day, not only from outside sources (books, documentaries, studies), but also from my own experiences through experimenting with the food I eat and paying attention of its impact on my emotional, mental and physical health.
Some studies show that the knowledge people have about nutrition and good habits can influence their food choices. However, that doesn’t necessarily means that the person who has the knowledge eats healthy or has healthy habits. Many people have the knowledge, but because of the overload of information and advises from professionals, are unsure of how to implement it in their lifestyle.
In addition to this knowledge we gather from outside sources, I’d like to point to the internal aspect I mentioned before, which is often neglected. It refers to knowing how the food you eat affects your body and how does it make you feel. Being aware of this, can highly influence which foods you decide to eat, and which to avoid consuming. Knowing the consequences different foods have on your wellbeing, you can consciously decide what to eat and when. (You will learn more on this in an upcoming article)
Regardless of how simple it may seem, deciding which foods to eat is a complex process. When making these choices, we are not only relying on one of the factors mentioned above, but combination of them.
Although we are all the same, our bodies work in a different ways and have different nutritional needs and preferences. Therefore, the only “person” you should listen when choosing your food is your body. It will tell you everything you need to know. You just have to learn how to listen to the signals it’s sending you, and respond back with love and nourishment. Pay attention to the symptoms that your body experiences when you eat certain foods. How does the body respond to them? Does the food you eat makes you gassy, bloated, tired, brain fogged? Or it helps you stay focused and clear minded, energized, and in good mood? Learn from variety of outside sources and experiment with the food you eat to find what works best for you. If you find it hard to understand your nutritional need by yourself, consult with a registered dietitian/nutritionist to help you learn which food combinations work best for you and which you should avoid.