Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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October 4, 2012

Bad eating habits are a matter of instinct


When it comes to the battle of the bulge, a good test is to conjure the image of a food and ask myself if I crave it. Sweet and salty foods are high on the list of what I crave, even when I’ve been eating three square meals a day and don’t need more calories.

The Oregon State news release notes “flavor” is a complicated subject. Only part of what gives a food its flavor is taste. Smell, temperature and texture are also important. Some foods are spicy, a feature that makes them a favorite to some people.

We’re all different, and our individual brains decide what foods we like. But most of us hanker for foods that are high in calories. Now that we can choose at the grocery store or restaurant what we eat, rather than chasing it down in the wild, we too often end up with more calories than is useful for our health.

The good news from Oregon is the way we perceive flavor is only partly instinct. It’s also partly learned. It’s certainly true that the first time I tasted coffee I thought it was terrible. Now I can’t live without it.

We need to work on retraining our senses to enjoy the foods that are good tasting and good for us. That may take more work than pulling up at the fast food outlet, but it’s important labor that can yield rich rewards for our health.


Dr. E. Kirsten Peters was trained as a geologist at Princeton and Harvard. Her column is a service of the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University.

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