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Spotlight On: How do we choose our food?

Last updated: 09/07/2015 | More Spotlight On content
It seems nowadays everyone has an opinion on the right way to eat, and the right way to plan a diet. The modern diet – both in terms of content and quantity – is considered to be directed by a person's choice between health-related and appearance-related goals on the one hand, and short-term pleasure-based motivations on the other. Is this really how we choose our food? And is this really what directs the quantities we consume? Various studies have been undertaken to determine just what factors influence the food decision-making process. One line of research commonly examines the relative influence of the 'usual suspects': food quality, freshness, price, taste, health, convenience, familiarity, age, sex, education, income – a long list of largely rational factors (the exception is perhaps mood). However, this line of research is NOT the focus of the following list.

Another line of research seeks to explore the contribution of less obvious factors to the food decision-making process. The findings uncovered by these studies are at times surprising, at times counterintuitive, at times intuitive – in retrospect, and paint a complex picture of human biology and psychology. For instance, our evolutionary history may have directed us to prefer 'predigested' (i.e. processed) foods, a functional tendency turned bad in modern society. The quantity of the food we eat may be influenced by ingrained unit size biases. Degree of stress does not influence the quantity of food we consume – but it does affect the content. Sleep deprivation will affect both. So will the presence of other people while we eat – along with the body type of those present. And last but not least, we have a not so flattering list of superficial qualities, including color, food name, and label size, among others.

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