Humans Possess Surprising Nutritional Intelligence

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Summary: Researchers say food choices may be influenced by nutritional needs rather than calories.

Source: University of Bristol

Pioneering research has shed new light on what drives people’s basic food preferences, indicating that our choices may be smarter than previously thought and influenced by the specific nutrients, as opposed to just the calories, we eat. we need.

The international study, led by the University of Bristol (UK), set out to re-examine and test the widely held view that humans have evolved to favor energy-dense foods and that our diets are balanced simply by eating a variety of different foods.

Contrary to this belief, his findings revealed that people seem to have a “nutritional wisdom,” that foods are selected in part to meet our vitamin and mineral needs and avoid nutritional deficiencies.

Lead author Jeff Brunstrom, a professor of experimental psychology, said, “The results of our studies are extremely significant and quite surprising. For the first time in nearly a century, we’ve shown that humans are more sophisticated in their food choices and seem to be choosing based on specific micronutrients rather than just eating it all and getting what they need by default.

The article, published in the journal Appetitegives weight to bold research carried out in the 1930s by an American pediatrician, Dr. Clara Davis, who subjected a group of 15 babies to a diet allowing them to “self-select”, i.e. tell them to eat whatever they wanted, from 33 different foods.

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Although no child ate the same combination of foods, they all achieved and maintained good health, which was considered proof of “nutritional wisdom”.

His findings were later scrutinized and criticized, but it was not possible to replicate Davis’ research because this form of experimentation on babies would today be considered unethical. As a result, it has been nearly a century since any scientist attempted to find evidence of nutritional wisdom in humans – a faculty that has also been found in other animals, such as sheep and rodents. .

To overcome these obstacles, Professor Brunstrom’s team developed a new technique that involved measuring preference by showing people pictures of different fruit and vegetable pairings so that their choices could be analyzed without putting their health or well-being at risk. in danger.

A total of 128 adults participated in two experiments. The first study showed that people prefer certain food combinations more than others. For example, apple and banana may be chosen a little more often than apple and blackberries.

Remarkably, these preferences appear to be predicted by the amounts of micronutrients in a pair and whether their combination provides a balance of different micronutrients.

To confirm this, they conducted a second experiment with different foods and ruled out other explanations.

To complement and cross-check these results, real-world meal combinations, as reported in the UK’s National Food and Nutrition Survey, were studied. Likewise, these data demonstrated that people combine meals in a way that increases exposure to micronutrients in their diet.

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Specifically, popular meal components in the UK, such as ‘fish and chips’ or ‘curry and rice’, appear to offer a wider range of micronutrients than randomly generated meal combinations, such as ‘chips and curry’. “.

The study is also noteworthy because it features an unusual collaboration. by Professor Brunstrom Co-author is Mark Schatzker, journalist and author, who is also writer-in-residence at the Modern Diet and Physiology Research Center, affiliated with Yale University. In 2018, the two met in Florida at the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior, where Schatzker gave a talk about his book, The Dorito Effect, which examines how the flavor of whole foods and foods processed has changed, and the implications for health and well-being.

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Interestingly, the research of Professor Brunstrom and Mark Schatzker arose out of a disagreement.

Professor Brunstrom explained: “I watched Mark give a fascinating talk that challenged the conventional wisdom among behavioral nutrition scientists that humans really only look for calories in food. He pointed out, for example, that good wine, rare spices and wild mushrooms are highly sought after but are a poor source of calories.

This shows a basket full of vegetables
Contrary to this belief, his findings revealed that people seem to have a “nutritional wisdom,” that foods are selected in part to meet our vitamin and mineral needs and avoid nutritional deficiencies. Image is in public domain

“It was all very intriguing, so I went up to him at the end and basically said, ‘Good conversation, but I think you’re probably wrong. Do you want to test it out?’ This marked the beginning of this wonderful journey, which ultimately suggests that I was wrong. Far from being a somewhat simple-minded generalist, as previously believed, the man seems to possess a shrewd intelligence when he it’s about choosing a nutritious diet.

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Mark Schatzker added: “The research raises important questions, particularly in the modern food environment. For example, does our cultural fixation on fad diets, which limit or prohibit the consumption of certain types of food, disturb or disturb this food “intelligence” in ways that we don’t understand? not ? »

“Studies have shown that animals use flavor as a guide to the vitamins and minerals they need. If flavor plays a similar role for humans, then we can imbue junk foods like potato chips and soft drinks with a false “burst” of nutrition by adding flavorings to them.

“In other words, the food industry can turn our nutritional wisdom against us, forcing us to eat foods we would normally avoid and thus contributing to the obesity epidemic.”

About this diet and nutrition research news

Author: Victoria Tag
Source: University of Bristol
Contact: Victoria Tagg – University of Bristol
Picture: Image is in public domain

Original research: The findings will appear in Appetite

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