Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Healthy eating anyone?

In today’s food culture, many people seem to have acquired uncannily homogenous tastes. In 2010, two consumer scientists argued that the taste preferences of childhood provided a new way of thinking about the causes of obesity. They noted a “self-perpetuating cycle”: food companies push foods high in sugar, fat and salt, which means that children learn to like them, and so the companies invent ever more of these foods “that contribute to unhealthy eating habits”. The main influence on a child’s palate may no longer be a parent but a series of food manufacturers whose products – despite their illusion of infinite choice – deliver a monotonous flavour hit, quite unlike the more varied flavours of traditional cuisine.
So suggests an interesting article in the Guardian that appeared in my Facebook feed this morning. The article argues that our tastes are learnt. We are taught what to eat and so all the foods we consume are ones we have learnt to eat. There's no doubt that certain food types taste good to most people. There was an interesting TV programme last year that explored the relationship between fat and sugar in suppressing the feeling of being full amongst other things and how that affected the way we choose to eat. So it seems quite clear that even at a surface level our relationship with food is both simple-we eat what we like and avoid what we don't, but also more complex in the way "what we like" becomes normalised for us.

As a result, as the article points out, we may decide that we ought to be eating more fruit and vegetables, but we haven't actually learnt to enjoy eating them. It therefore becomes a chore. Maybe the same is true about freshly prepared food that takes time and effort to cook compared with the easy option of a ready meal or a visit to a fast food outlet.

Maybe the first decision we need to make then, when we decide it's time for a dietary change, is that rather than restricting what we can and can't eat, we are making a positive choice to explore new flavours, textures and foods. I bought a copy of a vegetarian food magazine before Christmas and finally got around to reading it yesterday while I sat having my lunch. I'm not a big fan of meat anyway, so vegetarian cooking has always been part of our diet, so it's not as if I was reading this out of curiosity or some sudden resolution to go vegetarian. The recipes certainly looked and sounded interesting, and we will definitely try some of them. The point is, rather than a chore or some desperate dive into a "healthy diet", exploring these recipes will be a bit of an adventure. Eating a meal without meat doesn't have to be torture and neither does eating a meal without a pudding or a glass of wine.

If the article is correct, then what you eat is your choice. As long as you understand the principles of nutrition, you're free to explore, to learn to enjoy new tastes and to experience healthy food rather than endure it. Perhaps we need to see losing weight as a by-product of choosing new eating and drinking habits rather than the sole purpose of shifting our diet away from large portions of high calorie food.

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