About food choices > Psychological eating and reasons for food choices
The psychology of food choices
Basic likes and dislikes of foods tend to change very slowly. They’re also usually confined to what you can see or taste — if there’s a well-hidden ingredient you don’t like and you don’t know about it, you probably won’t have a problem eating the food.
Inbuilt food likes and dislikes/food disgust
We’re designed to find energy.
- We like fatty foods because they provide a lot of energy and are needed for certain metabolic functions
- We like sweet foods because they provide a boost of energy
As with most ominvores, humans have a natural revulsion to certain tastes and textures which is designed to protect us from food poisoning.
- We avoid bitter flavors because plants often signal poisons with bitterness.
- We avoid sour flavors because unripe fruits are sour
- We avoid moldy flavors because many molds are poisonous to us
- We avoid slimy textures because bacterial growth can make food slimy
- We avoid grainy textures because unripe fruits are grainy
In some cases the natural preferences are overcome by cultural training – moldy blue cheese in enjoyed in places like France and bitter foods are enjoyed in many parts of Asia.
Disgust may also come at certain times of life:
- Children are particularly susceptible to be disgusted by foods with the above characteristics – in some cases this could be because their digestive systems are not yet strong enough to deal with even small amounts of poisons in foods
- Pregnant women often have food reactions in the first trimester, with nausea
Cultural food choices
Foods can become culturally acceptable or repulsive because of the culture you’re brought up in. In the USA, most people avoid and are disgusted by organ meats such as liver and brains, although some theories say that our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate these fatty meats first because they’re easy to digest and provide a lot of energy. In much of Asia, bitter foods are appreciated.
Repulsions after sickness
Humans are programmed to avoid foods that have made them sick – this is a survival mechanism for omnivores. If you’ve been eating a food for a long time and you get sick from eating it, it’s generally not a problem and you can eat that food again. However, if you get sick after eating a new food, especially when you’re young, you’re likely to be repelled by that food for the rest of your life.
People with eating disorders such as anorexia, and even orthorexia (obsession with healthy foods), will avoid certain (or all) foods because they are repulsed by the idea of what they will do to their bodies.