Diet Choices Influenced By Food Combinations And Past History

Connie K. Ho for

“You are what you eat.” This is a well known phrase that has been mentioned many times in discussions related to health and nutrition. A new report discusses how the combinations of what you eat can affect your consumption, and also how the diet choices you made as a child could affect the diet choices you make as an adult.

Two researchers, T. Bettina Cornwell of the University of Oregon (UO) and Anna R. McAlister of Michigan State University (MSU), recently found that water could change the way that people eat. Their research findings were published recently in the journal Appetite. Appetite is an international research journal that focuses on the cultural, sensory, and physiological influences on diet choices as well as the consumption of particular foods and drinks.

The article by Cornwell and McAlister discussed separate studies. In one study, 60 young adults from the U.S., who were between the ages of 19 and 23, were surveyed on their pairings of food and beverages. The other experiment revolved around 75 U.S children, who were between the ages of three and five, and their consumption of certain beverages and vegetables. These preschoolers were examined on different days with different situations involving drinks served with vegetables.

The scientists found that older participants liked consuming salty foods and soda together instead of having soda with vegetables. Preschoolers tended to eat more raw vegetables, like carrots or red peppers, when these foods were served with water rather than a sugary drink. The findings in the report showed that people are influenced by diet choices that they make when they´re younger. They also tend to eat out of habit more than anything else.

“Our taste preferences are heavily influenced by repeated exposure to particular foods and drinks,” explained Cornwell, the Edwin E. & June Woldt Cone Professor of Marketing in the Lundquist College of Business at UO, in a prepared statement. “This begins early through exposure to meals served at home and by meal combinations offered by many restaurants. Our simple recommendation is to serve water with all meals. Restaurants easily could use water as their default drink in kids’ meal combos and charge extra for other drink alternatives.”

With these studies, McAlister believes that serving water with meals could help change dietary choices and could become helpful in combating the nation´s obesity epidemic. In the past years, there has been a rise in the number of young adults who have diabetes and also a general increase in the cost of health care. Furthermore, Cornwell stated that drinking water during meals could reduce dehydration, addressing the issue of dehydration that has been seen in 75 percent of adults in the U.S. She believes that, at a young age, children relate sweet, high-calorie drinks like sodas to fatty, high-calorie foods like French fries.

“While this combining seems as normal as rainfall in Northwest winters, when we look cross-culturally we can see that food-and-drink combinations are developed preferences,” continued Cornwell in the statement. “If the drink on the table sets the odds against both adults and children eating their vegetables, then perhaps it is time to change that drink, and replace it with water.”

The report findings show how diet choices made early on could impact a person´s nutrition choices later on.

“From a policy perspective, this means that we need  focus on early preference formation,” remarked McAlister in a prepared statement.

Others in the medical profession believe that the report could address overarching issues in the marketing and distribution of food.

“This important research has broad ramifications for how foods are marketed and served,” noted Kimberly Andrews Espy, vice president for research and innovation at UO, in a press release. “Addressing the early contributors of unhealthy eating that contribute to obesity is important for our general well-being as a nation and, especially, for improving the nutritional choices our children will make over their lifetimes.”

Before completing these studies, Cornwell and McAlister also published an article in the January 2011 issue of Appetite on how children´s taste choices preference for salty, sugary, fatty foods were connected with their awareness of fast food brands and soda brands.

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