Eating customs can be defined as eating habits or patterns presented by the majority of the modern population. Throughout the years, such nutritional habits change and older ones are being replaced by new ones. As time passes the eating customs evolve, some might become forgotten and other ones may become strengthened. In the terms of health, these changes might not necessarily be a favourable change. As time passes, humanity tends to change its eating habits to make food supply easier, more convenient and less time-consuming in terms of preparations. These goals in most of the cases severely impact the quality of modern food products, which in turn impacts society’s health and wellbeing.
By striving to provide the foods that require less and less time to prepare, such foods become less rich in nutrients and more abundant in toxic substances. Such foods are obviously prepared much quicker, might also be tastier and more convenient in terms of storage. This however has brought us to the point, where we as humans must pay more attention to what we eat and start actually avoiding such foods. In terms of habits, it is much easier to grab fish and chips or a pizza after work as these foods are quickly prepared for us and do not require further processing. They are simply ready to eat and that’s why are they called “fast foods”. They are however often being deep-fried using commercial oils, which consist of mixtures of fats that were not originally designed for cooking. Despite giving great taste they might compromise our health and make us more prone to chronic diseases. As BBC(1) reports “one in six young people eat fast food twice a day”.
This means that the eating customs have managed to change so much, that we, as the human race, have not only abandoned hunting (which is a form of physical activity), but also seem to be eager to eliminate even the storage of foods by buying ready to eat meals, that are either prepared on demand or are pre-cooked and heated throughout the day, so they are still warm as the customer’s order. Such habits indicate that the population aims to decrease not only the time required to gather and prepare the food but also to consume it as most fast food “restaurants” serve boxed meals that can be consumed outside, on the way home.
Another important topic is the place where one eats. Depending on the place one might make different choices regarding their meals. For instance, if one tends to eat sat down by the table, there is a greater chance of slowing down the process of eating, especially if the phone is left at the desk/office. It is so because psychologically, we tend to make worse food choices and eat faster in our offices or at our desks as our minds do not have the chance the calm down. Our body simply thinks that if we are in our office we should eat as quickly as we can and get back to work. The situation changes if we manage to leave the mobile devices elsewhere and have a chance to actually sit down around a table, relax and focus on our food. This psychological factor has a great potential in increasing satiety as the signal from the stomach reaches the brain and makes us realize that we have had enough food already after approximately 15 minutes. By calming down the mind, leaving the work in the office and actually focusing on the food, people will find it easier to slow down and enjoy. It is very important because eating too fast leads to overconsumption. The reason behind that is very simple – one might be already full and not know it, because the satiety signal hasn’t reached the brain yet. The simplest trick to fix that is to move away from the desk, leave the phone alone, sit down, forget the work and focus on enjoying the food.
These habits need to be changed in order to improve our health and it can be done in a variety of ways. According to NHS, it can be done through a variety of means. Some of them are(2):
- Basing the meals on starchy carbohydrates that are high in fiber that have lower glycemic index and allows the foods to digest slower and provide stable energy throughout the day, which reduces the chance of overeating
- Eating more fruits and vegetables as they contain antioxidants, polyphenols and other micronutrient that are healthy and may protect against certain chronic diseases
- Eating more fish, especially oily fish as they contain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids that are beneficial to humans’ health
- Reducing the intake of saturated fats and sugars which increase the risk of developing obesity through a variety of mechanisms such as lowering insulin sensitivity
- Reducing the intake of salt to less than 6g a day as excess sodium is not indicated and may increase the risk of developing hypertension
- Getting active and aiming to maintain healthy weight which is also beneficial to our health, and brings similar health benefits to healthy eating
- Ensuring adequate hydration because water is necessary for proper body functioning; generally 6-8 glasses of water a day are recommended
- Not skipping breakfast, because doing so may result in food cravings and overeating later in the day
The improvements proposed by NHS are not exclusive. Other improvements that can be implemented to ensure that health is NOT compromised can be presented in a form of logical cues that can be utilised by the general population without any knowledge regarding nutrition. Such cues could instruct one to:
- Try to leave your mobile devices (phone, tablet etc.) in the office (or other room) while eating
- Try to sit down around the table instead of eating at the desk – it will help your mind the leave the work and actually focus on the food eaten
- Try to eat slower as the satiety signal reaches you brain around approximately 15 minutes, which means you might already be full and not know it and that could lead to overeating (if eating too fast)
- Choose raw, natural products and prepare the food by yourself
- Avoid highly processed foods
- Increase the intake of vegetables and fruits
- Drink more water during the day
- Avoid sweet and salted snacks in excessive amounts
- Limit the frequency of grabbing fast foods
- Avoid mixing sweets with salted snacks (as sweet snacks are usually high in refined sugars and salted snacks are usually deep fried and combining refined sugar and refined fats will lead to insulin spike and increased fat storage which is one of the primal causes of obesity and cardiovascular diseases)
Listed cues can be implemented into the daily lifestyle and followed by the general public without any additional nutrition knowledge and what’s most important – they can be easily utilised without excessive thinking. Such a list can be printed and stuck to the fridge, so it is easily noticed, remember and practical.
- BBC, One in six young people eat fast food ‘twice a day’, accessed on 24/06/21, available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/health-37511554
- NHS, 8 Tips for Healthy Eating, accessed on 24/06/21, available at: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/eight-tips-for-healthy-eating/