6 Factors That Affect Our Food Choice
Whenever you sit down to eat you are making a choice whether you know it or not. This choice may have a good or bad effect on your health long term. Since most food choices do not have an immediate affect, it is easy to get caught in the trap of not being a conscious consumer. For most of us, we aren’t really sure why we even eat what we eat and how these choices will affect us in the future.
Every time you put a fork to your mouth, there is an influence that birthed what you’re about to eat. These influences may be tradition, preference or even your economic situation. Below we will examine 6 of the most influential factors in the food choices we make.
Our diets are restricted to the types of foods and amounts of food allotted by the food supply. Depending on where you live you may find a surplus of certain kinds of foods you may not find in another part of the world. For example, the climate you live in has a huge influence on what is available to you, what foods are in season during that climate and the climate even affects the price of that food at the time.
Another aspect of availability is trade. Many of our food products are imported from other countries. Let’s say one day Haiti decided to stop trading sugar cane with us, this would greatly affect the price and availability of sugar made from these sugar canes.
2.Income, Food Prices and Convenience
As a college student I can attest to this section first hand. Sometimes depending on the fund available, the choices between meals may mean something inexpensive and quick or a healthier choice where I am dishing out more money. Having a low income has a huge impact on the food choices we make. Not having enough money to buy the foods we should be eating makes it more difficult to get the foods we need to meet our nutritional needs.
Having a balanced diet is the one way to ward off chronic disease and risk of other conditions. One reason we may make food choices that are not so great for us is cost. If you are like most people you think it is really “expensive” to purchase whole foods such as fruits and veggies. The way I see it you either pay for good foods now or you pay with your health later. Truth be told it is very convenient to walk into a story and buy the bread that cost $1.00 rather than the bread that cost $2.59. It takes some planning and budgeting to be able to buy the better quality food but it is not impossible.
One last point on this subject most people miss is portions. If we ate the right portion sizes, the price of the foods would all pan out. For example, If you go from buying a dollar bag of bread to a two dollar bag of bread but you are eating the same portion sizes you will feel it in your wallet and waistline. Since we are probably not eating the right portion sizes to begin with, this is another aspect we should look at as far as price, income and convenience. (I will cover portion sizes in another article)
3.Advertising and Media
I SHALL NOT LIE! Those McDonalds commercials make their foods look sooooooooo good! BUT because there is always a fat juicy but, there is a science to making you want those foods. Did you know the colors red and yellow excite hunger? Do you think it is ironic that McDonald’s company colors are red and yellow? I think not. These company’s study you in, out and around the block to find out what will get your attention and what will make you more likely to purchase their foods. It’s all psychology ladies and gents. These companies spend millions of dollars a year to make advertising geared towards you food choices.
Since the rise of health consciousness you may notice an increase in these companies promoting their nutritional merits. In NYC it is mandatory for most restaurants to put a grade outside of their doors and the calorie content of their foods to help you make informed decisions. In reality advertising and media promotion is not really done in your best interest. These organizations are trying to make sales and will create claims to influence your selection. There are so many piece of information they leave out that may actually affect your choice of foods. There are not as many commercials promoting health diets as there are commercials promoting unhealthy foods so you can see where the discrepancy lies and the poor food choices are made.
4.Societal and Traditional aspects
Depending on your traditions and the society you grew up in, your choice of food is a result of that. In reality, our diets are really only comprised of about 30-40 foods we eat regularly. Those foods are what we are familiar with, what we know and what resonates with us the most. My parents are from Haiti and they would tell me in their country they would do away with ackee but in Jamaica that is a staple in their diets. Traditionally speaking it is just not something Haitians eat.
Social groups have an influence on what we eat as well. Family and friends are so influential when it comes to our food choices. Our family is our primary source of a social structure so it only makes sense that they influence us so much. We are around them the most and we interact with them the longest. The traditions we pick up from our families have the most powerful and lasting impact on us. Remember grandma’s cobbler recipe? See how much that means to you? Even if it isn’t healthy we may eat is just because it strikes a chord with us and brings us some sort of comfort.
During my journey to veganism I had to stop hanging around certain people just so I would not be tempted to eat certain things. It was that serious. Friends, coworkers and people from other social set-ups guide our eating actions. Ever notice that you are more likely to give in to peer pressure in a certain social situation than when you are alone? The group setting is so influential most weight loss programs encourage working out in groups because they understand how powerful it is to have someone else there with you! On your road to finding food consciousness, find at least one friend who is on the same page as you and watch your success soar.
5.Beliefs and Personal Values
Many people adopt a certain way of eating based on their personal values and this has a direct impact on our health. As an Adventist, even when I ate meat, I never ate pork. It stood against my religious beliefs. There are many religious and spiritual practices that have guidelines that affect you what foods go into your diet and what foods do not.
Personal values also play a factor in your food choices. Many environmentalists choose not to eat meat as a testament to their value of the animal life. Organizations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) do not eat meat because of the cruel conditions the animals are conditioned to before slaughter.
6.Other Factors That Affect Food Choice
One of the main reasons you eat what eat is taste. Taste determines our preference and influences our food choices. Most humans are born with the attraction to sweet foods. It may not be your go too option but everyone enjoys a sweet now and again. In addition to this we enjoy foods that are associated with happy feelings. It may be a treat you were given as a child or that one meal your wife makes you for your birthday. On the same note, we may really hate eating certain foods because of feelings associate with that food. For example, I absolutely do not like corn meal and that is because my mother would force me to eat it as a child despite the fact that I hated the taste. Even as an adult now you would not catch me at the store buying maize. Not happening.
Food choices are also tied to our psychological needs. For example, some people stress out and tend to eat as a way of coping. Another factor that may affect our choices are our parents choices. This has an indirect effect on us but has an effect none the less.
Our food choices are as diverse and dynamic as we are. What we eat is a direct reflection of culture, beliefs and socioeconomic structure. Food has rich symbolism to everyone and to think that it’s just a source of nutrients is denial. As you grow and continue to improve your eating habits, take some time to reflect on your own background and how it may be affected your food choices.
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