Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Why we choose the foods we eat

We are individuals and have been making choices since birth, but it is important to understand why we choose the foods we do.
Our feeling of satisfaction or fullness is regulated by a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus sends a signal for us to know when to eat and when to stop. According to Wardlaw in Contemporary Nutrition, chemicals, surgery and some cancers can destroy the hypothalamus and cause a loss of sensation, resulting in obesity or weight loss.
Consuming a meal that is high in water and fibre will cause one to feel full quicker. When eating, the stomach gets bigger from current and past food intake which may cause one not to want to eat more. Hormones such as endorphins, ghrelin and neuropeptide Y cause hunger whereas leptin, serotonin and cholecystokinin result in a feeling of fullness (early satiety). Some weight-loss drugs target these hormones and the way they function to result in early satiety.
Role of culture
There are other factors that cause food choices such as culture, convenience, availability, advertising, taste, appearance, economics and emotions. Foods are eaten at particular times or on certain days prepared a special way based on one's culture, which is passed on from generation to generation.
As Jamaicans, we have Sunday rice and peas with 'nuff' coconut milk or stew peas with salt beef, pig's tail or salted meat alternative. Foods are chosen because they are in season or packaged 'ready to eat' for ease of convenience with little or no preparation time. For example, orange juice instead of fresh oranges.
Smell or aroma
The promotion or advertising of foods using 'catchy' lines, pictures or health claims is also influential. People often think, 'I hear it on the radio so it must be true'. We usually eat with our eyes and nose before tasting the food. The smell or aroma of foods acts as a hunger trigger. Passing a fast-food store or restaurant will cause the feeling of hunger even if food was just consumed.
The ability to buy food items will influence foods that are chosen - canned mackerel instead of salmon, turkey neck instead of oxtail. Being emotional or stressed may cause altered appetite, and there are foods that are dubbed 'comfort foods' because they give a temporary feeling of happiness during and shortly after consumption such as, chocolate, pastries, cakes, puddings, tarts, nuts, chips, and alcoholic beverages.
Consider health
Why not consider health when making food choices? Think about the nutrients and their benefits, read food labels and choose items with less salt or sodium, less fat - especially saturated, trans fat and cholesterol, less sugar, and more fibre. Choose fresh instead of processed, and baked, boiled, steamed, stewed instead of fried or cooked in oil or other fats. Remember, your health may very well be your wealth.
Marsha N. Woolery is a registered dietitian/nutritionist in private practice and adjunct lecturer at Northern Caribbean University; email: