Last year NPR posed the question: "Why do we seem to relish salty, sweet, high-fat and fried foods?" After all, anybody on the street will tell you they're no good for us. So why do we eat them? Gary Beauchamp, director of Philadelphia's Monell Chemical Senses Center weighs in:
Our human ancestors were largely herbivores, and one of their primary concerns was consuming enough calories.
"Sweet things tend to be calorie-rich and tend to be high in vitamins in the real world," Beauchamp says. "Most or all plant-eating animals have evolved an ability to taste sweet compounds, particularly carbohydrates, and a liking for them."
Likewise, salt is a signal for nutrients such as sodium. As for fat, our cravings become less clear. Some studies suggest people like the buttery texture. Fat is also the richest source of calories. "One way to think about this is that people and animals learn to associate this feel with the feeling of calories in the gut—and that association is what makes these things so attractive," Beauchamp says. He speculates that fatty acids may also enhance the sweetness of sugar and the saltiness of salt.
Similarly, an aversion to bitter foods—including vegetables—may have evolved from the need for early humans to avoid poisonous plants, which often tasted bitter.
Check out the podcast that accompanies the NPR report.
The podcast suggests people have learned to acquire some nasty eating habits: overeating and gobbling up lots of salt and fat to new a few. According to Disease Proof Your Child this is a dangerous combination, especially in young children:
The unnaturally high level of sugar, salt, and artificially heightened flavors in processed (fake) foods will lessen or deaden the sensitivity of the taste buds to more subtle flavors, making natural food taste flat. For example, the higher the salt content of your diet, the more your taste buds lose their ability to taste salt. After your taste has toned down its sensitivity to salt, salty things don't taste so salty and your deadened taste buds have lost the ability to enjoy the subtle flavorings in more delicately flavored natural foods. Vegetables have less flavor, fruit isn't as sweet, and nuts taste like wood after just one month of over stimulation with industrial-designed flavors.
Children eat little real food today. By real food, I mean things that are eaten in their natural state. Is an ice pop real food? Are Kool-Aid or macaroni and cheese? Were these foods eaten by primitive man or other primates? Do they contain a reasonable complement of the trace elements, phytochemicals, minerals, and fibers that nature placed in real food? With so much fake food around, why would we expect our children to choose to eat vegetables, fruits, beans, and nuts, those foods that all the health-giving nutrients?