Saturday, January 28

It is increasingly difficult for us to eat fruit and vegetables: our consumption has fallen by 14% in the last ten years


As a recent study suggested, the positive effect of playing sports is much more powerful on happiness than the positive effect of happiness on playing sports. In other words: many of the things that are good for us at the level of our health do so because they make us feel good, the problem is that, to feel those beneficial effects, we have to pay a tribute in the form of effort, self-control, discipline and knowledge.

Something similar happens with healthy eating in general, and the consumption of fruit and vegetables in particular. Despite the fact that poor diet and little physical activity is responsible for 10% of all deaths and diseases worldwide, ahead of tobacco (6.3%) and air pollution (4.3%) , there are still many who resist adopting good lifestyle habits.

More information, worse habits

Despite the fact that countless campaigns tell us about the rise of healthy food, the reality is that little by little we have abandoned it. The more information it seems, the less effect it has on us. Therefore, in ten years, per capita consumption has gone from 105 kg to 90, which represents a drop of 14%. The categories that fall the most (regardless of their price) are citrus fruits and pome fruit (apples, pears and grapes). Stone fruit (apricots, peaches, plums) do not fall as much, but are not consumed in sufficient quantity either.

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We still do not know if we are facing a one-off fall, or a new reality that may even get worse. What we do know for sure is that, for the time being, there is a gender gap in the consumption of fruit and vegetables. Women consume more fruit and vegetables than men, especially those with higher university studies.

We also know that there is more nutritional information than before, although it is also true that knowledge about the daily recommendations of five daily servings of fruits and vegetables is only known by 25% of those surveyed. So, if there is more information, Why do we prefer to eat worse? Are the most caloric foods improving their flavor to the point that we can’t resist them? Do we have less time to cook? Do we have an innate preference for junk food?

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The Weight Worry Paradox

The problems of overweight and obesity continue to increase, and deaths from these two conditions, either. Not surprisingly, deaths due to cardiovascular problems have been, for more than 30 years, in the main category of “killers of humanity”. Therefore, we could think that diets do not work, that there is too much supply of foods rich in fats and sugarsand that some foods are really addictive.

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Those conjectures, at least, seem more plausible than lack of nutrition education, as argued by David L. Katz of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University. A good example is the consumption of vegetables. The message that we should eat more vegetables and that they are healthy is widely known in society, and yet vegetable consumption has not stopped decreasing. What’s more, there has never been so much variety of appetizing vegetables at our disposal.

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It seems that the problem of our rejection of vegetables, then, is within us. Consumer studies, in fact, suggest that labeling a new product as “healthy” makes it much less likely to be successful than labeling it as “new.” In other words: when it comes to our habits, there is a great mismatch of theory versus practicefrom knowledge to behavior.

Smokers don’t stick with their habit because they underestimate the risks; on the contrary: they know the risks so well that they even overestimate them.

Nor does the problem seem to lie in a lack of fear of unhealthy food.. In 1960, the social psychologist Howard Levanthal conducted a series of experiments on how we manage fear of things that harm us. The idea was that, through fear, Yale University seniors could be convinced to get a tetanus shot. It didn’t work. Smokers don’t stick with their habit because they underestimate the risks; On the contrary, they know the risks so well that they even overestimate them, and even then, they continue to smoke, as Kip Viscusi, an economist at Harvard University, discovered.

the acquired taste

We are informed and concerned about unhealthy food, but we choose to eat it. Is there something in unhealthy food that we cannot avoid simply by appealing to our willpower? It is often argued that fats and sugars are drugs that activate regions of the brain that are related to reward circuitry.

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From the perspective of behavioral psychology, eating is a classic form of learned behavior.

This is true, and it could be a fundamental element when it comes to resisting unhealthy food, but it is also true that much of our taste for food is also acquired: It depends on culture, context, habits, education, and exposure to food at an early age, as Bee Wilson explains in her book The First Bite: How We Learn to Eat: “From the perspective of behavioral psychology, eating is a classic form of learned behavior”:

Human behavior is not just a matter of impulse and effect, because human beings are not passive objects, but profoundly social beings. Often our conditioning is indirect. We not only learn from the food we put in our mouths, but from what we see others eat, whether in our family, at school or on television.

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Throughout our lives we are subjected to thousands of learning experiences around food. While we have these experiences, we not only capture the taste of food, but many other aspects associated with the social act of eating. Rituals, customs, cultures, religions, events… everything influences beyond hunger and hormones. And this is particularly relevant when we are less than two years old, because that is when many of our likes and dislikes will shape how we will eat as adults.

The more stress, the worse diet

Also the stress that we suffer on a daily basis defines to what extent we will control ourselves when it comes to eating unhealthily. This happens because the emotional effort of resisting some chocolate cookies has a “psychic cost”as revealed by a classic 1998 experiment by social psychologist Roy Baumeister.

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When a group of people were asked to use their willpower to eat a healthy food versus a more appetizing but unhealthy one, who later used that willpower to resist finally they were more exhausted by the effort when faced with another difficult task, such as completing a puzzle.

Changing our eating habits is a difficult task because the impulses that govern our preferences are often hidden, even from ourselves. Thus, given that we live in societies where more and more people report suffering from stress, this could also be influencing the fact that, knowingly, many decide to eat worse than they should.

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This hypothesis would fit in with the fact that, in recent years, we have been living in times of greater uncertainty, especially at the economic level. So maybe we’re just eating less fruit and vegetables because the world is falling apart. Why go on a diet if we have four days left? Why avoid giving ourselves a passing pleasure if there is no horizon?

Thus, as we have seen, there is a set of nodes connected to each other that conspire to lead us astray, feeding us in an unhealthy way even knowing that we are doing it. The good news is that our habits can be changed. The bad news is that it is not as simple as carrying out awareness campaigns, informing consumers more or preventing people with sculptural bodies from appearing in movies.

One way that seems to prove to be more efficient goes through improve the food environment: Since our food decisions are intimately conditioned by what we have most at hand, we should regulate the sale of unhealthy food or reduce the percentage of sugar present in supermarket foods. For example, the simple fact that you have to make a specific queue in a student cafeteria to order chocolate, different from the queue for the main dishes, already encourages a reduction in the consumption of chocolate.

Since we cannot modify our genes, well, we should modify our environment to encourage us to eat better. Since maintaining a discipline implies a psychic cost that can come down in moments of uncertainty or stress, we can improve the environment so that it is easier for us to resist eating poorly. Another debate, of course, would be to establish how much we should change that environment and in what way. And if we are willing to admit that we are not as free as we suspected.

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