We’ve all become used to the idea that food is supposed to be delicious. Whether we go out to our favorite restaurants or prepare food at home, we want every meal to satisfy our yearning for scrumptious, yummy food. Unfortunately, those yearnings evolved during a very different time. Cravings for delicious food evolved when food that tasted really good was hard to come by. As a survival mechanism, we developed cravings for food that required hard work. We developed a taste for foods high in sugar and fat because high calorie foods were not readily available. Minerals, like salt, were also rare if you did not happen to live by the ocean.
Today, we live in a very different world. Foods that are high in fat, animal protein, carbohydrates (sugars) and salts are available at the snap of a finger. It is only natural that we should feel entitled to finally fulfill all of the cravings that our ancestors carried with them for so many years before us. But now we are realizing that there can be too much of a good thing. A large portion of every tax dollar spent in the U.S. goes towards managing chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes and hypertension, most of which would be easily preventable by changes in our diet.
Unfortunately, our lifestyle is not only genetically embedded in us by our ancestors, but a culture of expecting food to taste good is engrained in us since early childhood. Daycare centers, children’s schools, and even your beloved nanny have all learned that it is far easier to feed children foods that are high in fat, sugars and sodium. This is why sugary flavored milk is offered in school and is promoted so heavily. Apparently kids will consume more nutritious calcium when it is drowned in sugar. No muss, no fuss, a spoonful of sugar does indeed help the medicine go down.
In a culture where doing things efficiently is valued more than doing things right, it is easy to sacrifice our long-term health if it makes mealtimes easier to manage.
Restaurants make money by selling food that tastes good, not by selling food that does what nature intended: drive our health. The business owner wins when the customer gets what he wants in the short term, regardless of the long-term cost to health.
Even the health food aisle in the local supermarket offers “healthy foods” that look nothing at all like what our ancestors ate. Foods that are low in fat, low in sugar and low in sodium are chemically modified to “fool” our taste buds into thinking that they are getting what they feel they need. Sadly, the chemical substitutes to add sweetness and richness to our meals often fall short and do little to satisfy our cravings.
Here are three things to think about when planning your meals for the week:
1. BE MINDFUL. Unless you are eating off of a farm in an environment similar to your ancestors, allowing your cravings to guide your eating is likely to get you into trouble. Instead, think consciously about the purpose of your food and diet.
2. EAT FOR A REASON. Eat to fuel your body and brain. Eat for performance. Eat for health. Eat for longevity. Connecting to the reason behind your meals can help you to eat more healthfully and more mindfully.
3. SAVE AND SAVOR. Save delicious meals for special occasions or one special meal each week. By truly savoring and appreciating those moments you will get more enjoyment out of your food than simply expecting every meal to be “gourmet” and feeling disappointed when it is not.
Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food, notes that “humans are the only animal that needs professional experts to tell them how to eat.” Thanks to modern technological advances in foods we have an abundance of choices to choose from, but this plethora of options can confuse our internal systems. The best way to override this confusion is to connect more mindfully to the purpose of the foods we eat, and to accept the idea that not every meal is going to taste like a cheeseburger or an ice cream sundae.
Contributing writer Jeremy McCarthy is the director of global spa development and operations for Starwood Hotels.