Loving it healthy!

Reading yet more articles on the psychology of eating…

How do we learn to like certain foods?


Well, we learn when it makes us feel good (we feel full, the sweet taste is pleasant), because other people do so (we model behavior of others, eat what our culture things is appropriate), and because it’s something we’ve eaten many times (we’re exposed to a certain food since childhood).

Food neophobia is the fear of new foods in kids (starts ~ age 2). It’s an important trait since it serves a protective function (you can get poisoned by eating unknown foods), but at this time in history with diverse food environment it might limit kids’ diet for the worst.

Learning through exposure (repeated tasting) is a way to make young children eat food that they don’t seem to like. [Between 50-60% of variance in preference for foods in 4-year olds is explained by its sweetness and degree of familiarity!]

For a 2 year old, ~10 attempts might be necessary to make them like a new food (usually vegetable 🙂 It’s important to space these attempts and be persistent (most parents just give up after trying to give one food several times). So e.g. you can give a red pepper in small portions daily over the course of the week and eventually your kid will like it!

The number of attempts goes up with age ( 4-year old- ~15 attempts; 10-year old- up to twenty exposures to the food may be necessary).

You want your kid to enjoy vegetables later in life- start them early by giving it to them at a young age and don’t give up 😀

Psychology of Eating

Just out of my Psychology of eating seminar and wanted to jot down a couple of new things I’ve learned.

We were talking about Flavor-Flavor learning- you can learn to like a certain food/flavor by pairing it with the flavor you already like (adding sugar [sweet flavor] to oatmeal). This is quite useful to humans as a “short cut” for eating foods that are safe and energy dense and avoiding potentially harmful ones= sweetness is preferred since in nature a fruit would also have an array of valuable micronutrients important for health; bitter taste is disliked since it is associated with poisonous foods, etc.

Either way, here are a couple of interesting facts I learned today-

CALCIUM makes things taste bitter; thus lots of leafy-green vegetables are not liked by people. But you can learn to like them if you pair these vegetables with, for example, sweetness or fats (think of a green smoothie kale+banana+nut butter).

ImageAlso, adding sugar to bitter foods makes them taste less bitter; adding sour- more bitter.

Most recent meal is associated with fullness, so if you eat a regular meal followed by dessert- you will associate dessert with fullness. To associate healthier foods with satiety, eat dessert first! 🙂 

It is important to remember that virtually ALL of our food preferences are learned rather than innate, so you can teach yourself to eat healthier by liking it more!