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Royal Academy of Nutrition and Health Eating

6. Automatic behaviors

From the minute you were born, you began performing three automatic behaviors: you slept, you ate, and you expelled your waste products . . . often while you were sleeping. You didn't need to think about these actions, and you didn't have to decide to do them.

You also didn't need to make choices about where to sleep, what to eat, or when to go to the bathroom. Life was so easy back then.

Now that you're older, these actions, particularly the eating part, are anything but automatic. You make numerous decisions every day about what to eat, and you make these decisions for reasons that you may not even be aware of.

If your dietary advice comes from media sound bites, you may get constantly conflicting information. Yesterday's news flash announced that eating more protein would help you fight a bulging waist. Last week's headline boldly announced you should minimize trans fats in your diet to avoid a heart attack.

This morning, the TV news lead was a health report advising you to eat more whole grains to live longer, but to hold the line on sodium, otherwise your blood pressure may go up.

Though you may find it frustrating that dietary advice seems to change with the daily news (though it actually doesn't), this bombardment of nutrition news is a positive thing. You are lucky to live in an era when so much is known and being discovered about what you eat and how it affects you.

Today's research validates what nutrition professionals have known for decades: Nutrition plays an invaluable role in your health.

As with any science, nutrition is not stagnant.

Exciting discoveries will continue to be made about the roles that diet and foods play in keeping you healthy. Let's find out more about nutrition, why it's so important to your health, and how you can identify sound sources of nutrition information.

We'll start with the basic concept of why you eat and how this affects your nutrition.

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7. What Drives Our Food Choices?

 What did you have for dinner last night? Where did you eat it? Who were you with? How did you feel? Do you ever think about what drives your food choices? Or are you on autopilot as you stand in line at the sub shop and squint at yet another menu board? Do you adore some foods and eat them often, while avoiding others with a vengeance?

Perhaps you have a grandparent who encourages you to eat more (and more!) of her traditional home cooking. You obviously need food to survive, but beyond your basic instinct to eat are many other factors that affect what goes into your stomach. Let’s discuss some of these now.

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8. We Need to Eat and Drink to Live

All creatures need fuel in order to function, and humans are no exception. We get our fuel from food in the form of chemical compounds that are collectively known as nutrients.

These nutrients work together to provide energy, growth, and maintenance, and to regulate numerous body processes. Three of the six classes of nutrients—carbohydrates, fats (part of the larger class of lipids), and protein—provide energy in the form of kilocalories.

Two other classes of nutrients, vitamins and minerals, help regulate many body processes, including metabolism. Some also play other supporting roles. The last class of nutrient, water, is found in all foods and beverages, and is so vital to life that you couldn't live more than a few days without it.

Foods also provide nonnutrient compounds like phytochemicals and other substances that help maintain and repair your body in order to keep it healthy. We will explore each of these nutrients in more depth later. Beyond the basic need to replenish our bodies with daily fuel are other factors that drive our food choices.

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10. Taste and Culture

Research confirms that when it comes to making food choices, taste is the most important consideration.

This shouldn't be too much of a surprise, considering that there are at least 10,000 taste buds in your mouth, mainly on your tongue. Your taste buds tell you that chocolate cheesecake is sweet, fresh lemon juice is sour, and a pretzel is salty.

That you choose to put on your plate is often influenced by your culture. If you were a student in Mexico, you may be feasting on a dinner with corn tortillas and tamales, as maize (corn) is a staple of Mexican cuisine.

In India, meals commonly include lentils and other legumes with rice and vegetables, whereas Native Americans often enjoy stews of mutton (sheep), corn, and other vegetables.

In China, rice, a staple, would be front and center on your plate.

A culture's cuisine is greatly influenced by the environment. This includes not only the climate and soil conditions but also the native plants and animals, as well as the distance people live from rivers, lakes, or the sea.

People tend to consume foods that are accessible and often have little experience eating foods that are scarce. For example, native Alaskans feast on fish because it is plentiful, but eat less fresh produce, which is difficult to grow locally. For most Americans, this is less of an issue today than in the past, due to global food distribution networks.

However, it still rings true for some food items. People living in landlocked states may have less access to fresh fish, for example, while those outside the south may not see collard greens or beignets on local store shelves as often as their Gulf State counterparts do.

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11. Social Reasons and Trends

Eating is an important way to bond with others. Every year, on the fourth Thursday in November, over 95 percent of Americans gather with family and friends to consume close to 700 million pounds of turkey as they celebrate Thanksgiving.

A person is likely to eat more on Thanksgiving than on any other Thursday, and this is partly because of all the other people eating with them.

Eating dinner with others has been shown to increase the size of the meal by over 40 percent, and the more people present, the more you'll eat.

Enjoying your meals in the campus cafeteria also allows you to socialize with your classmates. For many people, activities like watching a football game with fellow fans or going to a movie with friends often involve particular foods. More pizzas are sold on Super Bowl Sunday than any other day of the year. Movie theatre owner's bank on your buying popcorn, candy, and beverages at their concession stands before heading in to watch the picture.

Revenue from these snack items can account for up to 50 percent of a theatre's profits. And if you're with a group of friends, you're even more likely to buy these snacks. Research shows that movie concession snacks are more often purchased when people are socializing in a group.

For instance; chances are that you'll choose a popcorn and soda at the theater, even if you are not hungry, because everyone else is having a snack. Your food choices are also affected by popular trends.

For instance, home cooks in the 1950s bought bags of new fangled frozen vegetables in order to provide healthy meals in less time. A few decades later, vegetables went upscale and consumers bought them as part of ready-to-heat stir-fry mixes. Today, shoppers pay a premium price for bags of fresh veggies, like carrots, that have been prewashed and peeled, sliced, or diced.

Similarly, decades ago, the only way to enjoy iced tea was to brew it and chill it yourself. Now most markets provide dozens of choices in flavored and enhanced bottled teas, a popular beverage for many college students.

As food manufacturers pour more money into research and development, who knows what tomorrow's trendy food item, will be?

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