Food hates? It’s all in your head….
10th August 2012
What food do you really despise? What is it that turns your stomach? For me it’s bananas. It’s strange really because there are not many foods that I can’t tolerate. I might not really love Brussels sprouts but I can still eat a couple with any sudden urge to regurgitate (sorry if you’re eating your breakfast!). But why do I feel this way? Well my Mum tells me that I was a banana lover until one day, when I was about 2 years old and she left a banana skin on the coffee table. It was at just the right height for the inquisitive Nicola to reach over and pop it in her mouth! Now apparently my face said the rest and from that day forth no longer would bananas be on the menu.
This association has stayed with me for most of my life and the minute I could detect even a hint of banana in a smoothie, cake, yoghurt, juice etc. I would immediately spit it out. As I got older I began to read labels to avoid coming across banana and so it continued until I started my studies in nutrition at the age of 26. It was at this point that I became interested in why people have certain food preferences and if they could be changed.
Professor Elizabeth Capaldi of Arizona State University says that food preferences are learned. Now there is an element of genetic preference and dislike for salty, sweet, sour and bitter tastes but other than that the rest is habit (Keane 2010). And as Levins & Lewontin (1985) said: ‘What people can eat is biologically determined; what they do eat is quite another matter’. Now this backs up my belief that the only thing stopping you from eating and liking a food is you! Obviously it doesn’t really matter if you dislike the odd food and tend to avoid it, but from my position as a nutritional therapist, it can be really challenging when someone says something like ‘I don’t like any fruits or vegetables’. Really? You’ve tried all fruits and all vegetables available in the UK and there is not one you like? This position is especially frustrating if someone is suffering from a health condition that may benefit from an improved diet.
Now I’m sure many of you have had first-hand experience of weaning a baby. One week they love a food and the next it’s thrown across the room in an act of complete defiance! It can take a child up to 10 tries to get a child to like a food and food choices are also a chance for a developing child to start to exert some control over his or her life. But you may have noticed that it’s not always the actual food that causes the rejection. Sometimes it’s the way the food is presented i.e. a baby won’t eat chunks of avocado but mash it up and spread it on a rice cake and it’s a different story. And we adults are not dissimilar to this. We convince ourselves that we hate a food, but do we hate the food per se, or the way it’s presented. Now H2B (husband to be for those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter/Facebook!) is a prime example of this. It became pretty clear early on in our relationship that his love for seafood and fish was not exactly as he’d described it at our first meeting! In fact he couldn’t stand it. Now this was a problem as it’s quite possibly my favourite food and aside from tasting amazing it is a rich source minerals such as iodine, zinc and selenium and also that all important omega 3. Now I was adamant that this dislike was in his head – I mean how can anyone not like ANY fish or seafood? So I surreptitiously started adding small pieces of prawns to his stir-fry, hiding flaked salmon in risotto and coating Pollock with a herby pesto crust. Well it worked because overtime he grew to love fish and now he eats almost everything (mussels are still a no) – success!
Now I’m still trying with my nemesis but I can happily report that I recently ate a Banoffee pie (ok not the most nutritionally balanced option) and a banana containing smoothie. So I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t write off a food because you ‘think’ you don’t like it. Try preparing it in a different way; roast instead of boil, mash instead of chop, grate instead of slice and even combine with other foods you do like. You’ll soon find that with a little bit of persistence a whole new world of food opens up and you might even improve your health!
Now pass me a banana (gulp).
I Love Greens
Keane K (2010) In good taste: Research explores food preferences last accessed 10.08.12 at http://researchmatters.asu.edu/stories/good-taste-research-explores-food-preferences-1412
Levins R. C. & Lewontin, R. (1985) The Dialectical Biologist Cambridge, MA Harvard University Press