Why do people choose the foods they eat?
Before you take your next bite of food think about what you are eating. The food choices you make each day influence your body’s health for better or for worse. The choices you make today will only make a little difference, but when repeated over years and decades can have a major impact on your health. Paying close attention to and making healthy choices can support good health later in your life. On the other hand, eating carelessly and making poor food choices can contribute to many chronic diseases. Heart disease, diabetes, and cancers can be a result of a long unhealthy diet. Although most people realize that their food choices affect their health, there are many other reasons why people choose the foods they choose. Food choices are often highly personalized decisions. Most food choices are based on behavioral or social motives rather than achieved good nourishment for health.
Taste is the number one reason people choose the food they eat. Many people prefer the sweetness of sugar or the saltiness of salt. High fat foods are universally a common food preference. Different cultures have preferences like the curry spices of India or the soy sauces of China.
Food choices are often made out of habit. Many people eat the same thing for breakfast over and over again. Eating the same food over and over again gives people a sense of comfort since they do not have to make a decision.
Most people like to share meals with companions. Going out to lunch with a co-worker or friend is common. Many friends like to go to a movie and go out for dinner together. Meals are often served at social events. Food is often offered at parties and social gatherings. Have you ever been to a party where food or a beverage is not offered? Party hosts often serve food as a form of hospitality regardless of hunger signals. Social customs invite people to share food and drink offered by the host. Some cultures consider it an insult not to accept foods offered.
Ethnic Heritage or Traditions
One of the strongest influences of food choice is based on ethnic heritage or tradition. If you grew up in a Hispanic household, you often grew up consuming Mexican food. Every country has it own sense of style of cooking and foods, and even some regions have its own typical foods. The southern region of Louisiana is ubiquitous to serving Cajun and Creole cuisine. An American tradition is a turkey dinner at Thanksgiving or Family Barbeque on the 4th of July. The American diet is often a collection of many different ethnic groups. About 60 percent of U.S. restaurants (excluding fast-food places) are from different ethnic groups. The most common include Chinese, Italian or Mexican.
Availability, Convenience and Economical
People often select foods that are fast and easy to prepare. Supermarkets are now full of fast convenience foods ready to bring home and consume. With today’s busy life styles people want quick and economical items. People often do not want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen preparing meals and will also often look for simple recipes with minimal ingredients. Those who prepare their own foods at home are more likely to meet dietary guidelines, rather than those who frequent fast food restaurants. Consumers who frequent fast food restaurants and do not choose wisely are less likely to eat too much fat and get inadequate amounts of calcium, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Sometimes food choices are made because of convenience. A candy bar might be a mid afternoon snack choice because it is what is conveniently located in one’s office hallway or in the path of a college student’s walk way. A health conscious individual might pack an apple or banana. The fruit or banana would provide more vitamins and minerals and less sugar and fat.
The economy has shifted the choices people are making have changed. The higher priced convenience foods are purchased less often and more people are buying the less expensive store brands. Consumers are eating more home cooked meals to save money.
Positive and Negative Associations with Food
People tend to like some foods because their association with happy occasions. Hot dogs are well liked at baseball games and cake and ice cream are liked at birthday parties. By the same token a person may have an adverse association with food. A child who was forced to eat broccoli as a child may develop an adverse association with broccoli. Parents may inadvertently, teach children to like or dislike certain foods. If cake or candy is used as an award, the child may develop a positive association with it.
Some people are emotional eaters. They may eat when they are upset, bored, or depressed. Stress or trauma in a person’s life may lead to overeating and weight gain. People find emotional comfort in eating. Eating can influence the brain’s chemistry and mind’s response. Carbohydrates and alcohol tends to have a calming effect while protein and caffeine are more likely to activate.
Food Choices may be a result of a person’s religious beliefs, political view or environmental concerns. For example, Jewish people follow a extensive set of dietary laws. Christians do not eat meat on Fridays during Lent. Muslims may fast between sunrise and sunset during the religious time of Ramadan. Some people only select foods that are organically grown, have not been irradiated and genetically modified. Vegetarians may restrict meat and meat products based on their concern for animal rights. Some people may select foods that are locally grown based on the fuel and environmental costs of foods shipped from far away.
Body Weight and Image
Some times people select foods and/or supplements because they believe it will improve their appearance or performance. Athletes may select foods high in protein because they believe it will enhance their performance. Decisions like this can be helpful when based on sound nutrition and fitness knowledge. Choices made based on fads may be detrimental to your health. People concerned about their body weight may choose only low calorie nutrient dense foods. When eating in restaurants men may be more likely to choose a steak and potato meal as it appears more masculine especially when dining with a group of men, while women may choose a salad entree.
Nutrition and Health Benefits
People will often choose foods because it’s health benefits. Manufacturers and chef are responding to more demand for healthy foods. Restaurants are offering healthy food options on their menus to attract all consumers. Foods that provide health benefits are often marketed as such and consumers may be more likely to purchase them. Examples include oatmeal and lacto bacillus yogurts. Other foods may be enriched with extra nutrients may be selected for it’s nutritional qualities such as orange juice fortified with calcium.
In closing, people select foods for a variety of reasons. Whatever the reason, the choices will in turn affect overall health in the long run. Choose foods that create a healthful balance of your diet over a period of time.