Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Nutrition Labels Won't Change Your Food Choices

Sorry to burst your bubble. Yes, as much as our society is health-obsessed and we would like to believe that 'knowing' that foods are bad for us will help us avoid them, unfortunately, our brains don't work that way and there's plenty of research to back it up.

Food has so many meanings, and it's more than just about eating. Our social circles, cultures and upbringings in addition to our physiological needs shape our preferences and attitudes toward food and eating. We can definitely change what we eat, but unless we make a conscious effort to do so, a fact sheet won't do it for us. Keeping all this in mind, it's not surprising to find that if we are used to eating a certain food or we have grown to love it, we're not going to suddenly stop having it just because someone slapped a lovely info-packed label on top of it. You can't resist cake, even though it contains heaps of butter and sugar, because it means something, it reminds you of a time and place and gives you a distinct feeling like no other.

You might argue that we eat things because they taste good, but I'll tell you that taste is, in fact, all in your head. Before you start throwing things at your screen, keep this in mind: Things taste good because you eat them, and not the other way around. In order for you to experience the physiological sensation of 'taste', you have to first deliver the food into your mouth. The thing in the way of getting food from the outside world into your body is actually your brain. Your preconceptions of what the food will or will not taste like will then shape the way it plays on your tongue and the signals that get sent to your brain.

So, if you grew up eating Big Macs or really love those fresh, never frozen buffalo chicken strips from your local pub, knowing how much sodium or fat they contain won't stop you from eating them, and it definitely won't stop you from enjoying every last morsel.