Why do fatty foods taste best?
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You know how it goes - it gets to the 3pm slump and all you want is a chocolate bar and a bag of crisps. With the government regularly drilling home healthy eating and consuming our five-a-day, just why is it that fatty, sugary foods often taste so much better? If you've ever wondered why we crave them, or even how to bust those cravings, we've quizzed the experts to find out what's what.
Why do we crave fatty and sugary foods?
"Prehistorically, we didn't come across fat that often," says Marisa Peer, voted Best British Therapist by Men's Health magazine, and a featured expert on Channel 4's Supersize vs. Superskinny and ITV's Celebrity Fit Club UK
"If you were a caveman and you came across fat, you would really gorge on it, because you didn't know when you'd ever get it again. The human brain is now hardwired to absolutely gorge on fat and sugar, as if again, we're not going to get it very often, when of course we now get it all the time! We happily eat biscuits and chocolate for a treat every single day. It's not a treat at all - that food is always available to you."
Do fatty foods taste better?
From a chef's point of view, there are lots of occasions in the kitchen where nothing can replace fattier ingredients like butter and cream.
"They give a better mouthfeel, level everything out on your palate and give a better taste too," explains Michael Wignall, head chef at Pennyhill Park Hotel's Michelin-starred restaurant, The Latymer.
"You just can't get around that by using lower fat things. There are five tastes on your tongue: salty, sour, sweet, bitter and umami, but everyone's got a fatty gene on the tongue as well.
"We do a poached langoustine dish and we finish them in emulsified butter. It just enhances the dish and adds to the whole flavour of the sweet langoustine. We use soya and things like that because we get a lot of dairy and lactose-free customers in the restaurant, but it just doesn't have the same feel in the mouth. Especially soya in fact - it has quite a chalky feel to it."
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Our cravings for fatty food are both learned and instinctive, experts say
Cravings: learned or instinctive?
So are our sugar and fat cravings purely innate? "Although our cravings for them are innate, they're learned as well," says Marisa. "You'll always get parents who say things like 'this is a treat' or 'you've been so good, here's a cake'. To the extent that you'll have people who are in their 40s and morbidly obese, who whenever they're unhappy just go and eat chocolate or ice-cream."
Marisa is also quick to point out that parents are by no means alone in shaping our cravings. There are other more commercial parties at play whose main aim is to get us buying their products.
"It's innate and learned, because advertisers spend a lot of money on this," says Marisa about our sugar and fat cravings. Advertising and temptation is all around us it seems.
"If you get up, put on the TV, read a paper, flick through a magazine, go to work on a bus, you're being asked to eat confectionary nearly 500 times a day, which is incredible," she says.
Switching from butter to spreads and lighter oils will reduce your intake of bad fats
"Today as a nation we are consuming too much saturated fat," says Linda Main, dietetic advisor for cholesterol charity HEART UK. "To achieve a better balance HEART UK's best advice is to, where possible, buy lean meat and limit portion sizes to around 120g at a meal, avoid/limit processed meats (sausages, burgers, kebabs) and choose lower fat dairy (milk, yoghurts, cheese, cream). Swap butter for a plant-based spread and use oils in preference to butter or lard in cooking."
"Many foods are a mixture of fats," says Linda. "Ideally, of the fat we eat, no more than a third should be saturated fat (largely found in animal foods: meat, processed foods butter, full-fat dairy, lard and palm and coconut oils). The remaining fat should be from unsaturated sources (largely plants - nuts, seeds, olives and oily fish)."
Renée Elliott, founder of Planet Organic advises avoiding the following fats:
- Hydrogenated fats or trans fats
- Fat in fried foods
- Cheap cooking oils
- Fat from cheaply reared meat
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Eggs get a bad press but they're a source of good fats
"Don't avoid fats by eating low-fat foods," says Renée, who's not such a fan of the low-fat concept. "Low-fat foods are a waste of time. When a product like yoghurt has low fat, manufacturers add (you guessed it) more sugar, because it has no flavour if you take the fat out. If 'low-fat' worked, wouldn't less people be fat and obese?"
Instead, Renée suggests incorporating good fats into your eating habits. "Some really special oils to add into your diet are avocado, coconut, flax, grape seed, hempseed, macadamia, pumpkin seeds, sesame seed and walnut," she says. "Rather than buying too many at once, buy one new oil to try the next time you shop, use it up and then try something else the next time."
"The kind of fats you should be eating are oily omega oils, which are found in oily fish, nuts, seeds, olives, olive oil, avocados and eggs," says Marisa. "Eggs have actually got really good fat in them, but they get terrible press."
How to reduce your cravings
"The best thing is to follow a diet that helps you manage your blood sugar across the day," says Susie Perry Debice, a Nutritionist from The Food Doctor on Harley Street in London.
"Eat lots of low GI (Glycemic Index) foods and limit high GI foods. If you combine low GI foods (whole grains, pulses and vegetables) with lean protein, studies have indicated that it's a really good way to maintain blood sugar balance, and actually maintain a healthy body weight. Following alongside that is getting into the habit of eating every three hours: a good breakfast, a healthy snack, a good lunch, a healthy snack and a light main meal."
Nutritionist Emma Alessandrini, who works for health food retailer Revital, also has the following tips to reduce cravings:
"Treat any hormonal regulation problems. If you notice you crave fats and sugars when stressed try taking stress support herbs and supplements (rhodiola, or passion flower, B vitamins and magnesium)."
"Look at what you crave as sometimes it may be a sign of deficiency. For example, people who crave fish may need more omega 3s in their diet, whereas people who crave chocolate may need more magnesium.
"It's natural for the body to crave fat and sugar, but the better you eat, the less you crave 'bad' foods," says Renée. "Don't be fat phobic. Eating good fats won't make you fat - unless you completely overdo it. It's more likely to be junk foods, fried foods, too much white flour and too much sugar - combined with too little energy - that pack the pounds on.
"Eating good fats is actually necessary for optimal health. With sugar, the more you eat it, the more you want it. It is highly addictive. Eat less and it has less of a hold on you. But don't try to avoid sugar completely. If you do, you will probably fail, feel badly and then eat something sweet. Instead, eat well most of the time and then don't worry about it."
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