Knowledge and Nonsense: Your Taste Preference Trumps All

TAGS: taste tests, Food likes and dislikes, research, knowledge and nonsense, Jamie Hale

When creating a nutrition program, either for yourself or a client, it is important to consider food preferences. Why? Because it could make or break one's adherence to the dietary program.

Food preferences greatly affect eating behavior—from meal duration and rate of eating to the amount eaten (Spitzer & Rodin, 1981) and the frequency of eating (Woodward et al., 1996). However, discrepancies have been found between the amount of food consumed and one's food choices (Eertmans et al., 2001). Lucas and Bellisle, for instance, found (1987) that individuals who preferred medium to high sucrose or aspartame levels in dairy products actually consumed lower levels. Thus, it can be assumed that factors other than food choices and preferences can account for these inconsistencies between food likes and consumption.

In another study conducted by Tuorila and Pangborn (1988), one hundred American females completed a questionnaire in which their beliefs, evaluations, liking, and consumption of milk, cheese, ice cream, chocolate, and “high-fat foods” were measured. Interestingly enough, they found that whether a woman "liked" a food or not was a greater predictor of consumption—greater even than the health beliefs associated with the food. After conducting survey research, Woodward and colleagues (1996) also found that self-reported frequency of food intake could be better predicted by liking and by parents' consumption of a particular food rather than perceptions of the health benefits of the food. The survey was conducted to investigate factors associated with the consumption of 22 diverse foods among over 2,000 students aging from 12 to 15 years in Tasmania, Australia. Students completed a printed questionnaire.

Wardle (1993) used, within participants, correlations between health or taste appraisal and consumption frequency in order to index health and taste motivations in food choices among family members. The taste index was significantly and consistently higher than the health index. Wardle inferred that food choices appeared to be determined more by liking the food than by the health/nutrition aspect of the food. In turn, Steptoe and Colleagues (1995) developed the Food Choice Questionnaire—a multidimensional measure of motives related to food choice.The Food Choice Questionnaire was developed through factor analysis of responses from a sample of 358 adults ranging in age from 18 to 87 years. Nine factors emerged and were labeled as health, mood, convenience, sensory appeal, natural content, price, weight control, familiarity, and ethical concern.Steptoe found sensory appeal, health, convenience, and price as the most important factors influencing eating behavior. Less important were mood, natural content, weight control, familiarity, and ethical concern.

The influence of taste preferences on food consumption can easily be seen in children. For example, the best indicator of children's fruit and vegetable consumption is whether or not they like the taste of the fruits or vegetables being eaten (Resnicow et al., 1997). Therefore, in order to get children to eat such foods, it is imperative that they develop a liking for these nutritious foods, which in turn suggests the importance of food preferences for both short- and long-term consumption (Beauchamp and Mennella, 2009).

Although not completely decisive, the vast amount of evidence does point to the fact that food preference plays a major role in eating behavior (Eertmans et al., 2001; Beauchamp & Mennella, 2009; Rozin, 1990). As an example of the inconsistency of reported preference and consumption, consider the following experiment conducted by Lucas and Bellisle (1987). In the experiment, a standard food (yogurt) was presented in five sucrose concentrations (from 2 percent to 29 percent) to 18 subjects. The five types of yogurts were first tasted and rated for pleasantness. Next, they were presented in ad-lib (as much as you would like) consumption tests. Yet, discrepancies appeared between taste test ratings and consumption. In subjects who preferred medium to high sucrose concentrations, the optimal concentration (in terms of intake) was lower than the “preferred” one (as determined by taste-and-spit tests).

While food preference is relatively unstable and is only one of many aspects that affect eating behaviors (Donaldson, et al, 2009), it doesn’t refute the importance of liking and its influence on eating behavior. Still, when designing a diet, it is something to consider. Because, most likely, a diet that contains only foods that one dislikes will probably not be followed long-term. Don’t be afraid to turn those not-so-tasty foods into flavorful versions.

In future articles, other factors that influence eating behaviors will be discussed.

*References available upon request.

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