Wouldn’t life be so much easier if you actually craved the food that was good for you?
Believe it or not, this is actually how your body was designed.
Have you ever craved a salad after a weekend of not eating so well? Or, maybe you craved protein after trying out a vegan diet. Those are examples of your “innate nutrient request system” properly performing. You weren’t eating what your body needed, so it craved vitamins from vegetables or protein from meat.
Animals in the wild are the perfect example of how this “innate nutrient request system” works. They know what to eat, not by accident, but because their bodies crave it.
Take a bear for example. A bear eats a whole bunch of roughage before going into hibernation. Literally clogging up his digestive system so he can sleep through winter. When he comes out of hibernation he seeks out skunk cabbage (from pg 34 of this article). It smells and tastes as bad as it sounds! But, the bear needs this plant to help unclog his system and start his digestion back up again. So, instead of detesting its horrible, ghastly flavor, he enjoys it because it satisfies his cravings.
It’s not the bear’s mind that says to go seek out skunk cabbage, it’s his body craving the flavor of skunk cabbage!
The bear didn’t read this in a book and he didn’t need to be scolded by his mother to eat it either. All he did was listen to his body’s request for flavor, which is what you and I have the innate power to do too!
Why It Doesn’t Always Work So Perfectly
The problem is our systems have gone haywire. Many of us eat foods that mislead our perfectly created systems.
First, lets understand how your innate nutrient request system works.
It’s quite simple really, yet, impeccably designed by Mother Nature.
When you bite into an orange, your body correlates the flavor of the orange with the nutrients it received. But also, the orange produced those flavors because of the nutrients. The more flavorful the food, the more nutrients it has. Brilliant!!!
When we get nutrients from food, our bodies associate that flavor with those nutrients. Later, when we need those nutrients again, our bodies crave that flavor. When you crave a food you’re actually craving the flavor of that food.
There are more than 65 different nutrients in an orange. Vitamins like A, B and C, fiber, minerals, amino acids, and even trace amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.
Now, back to why our systems have gone haywire.
If a tasty zesty orange has more than 65 vitamins in it, how many vitamins are in an orange flavored soda? It doesn’t matter if it’s the soda you get from 7-11 with artificial flavoring or the organic, naturally flavored orange soda from Whole Foods. They both have zero vitamins, but they pack a punch of flavor, tricking you into thinking it’s loaded with nutrients.
Here’s another example: Take a look at McDonald’s. McDonald’s is way more than fast-food. It’s a deliberately assembled combination of flavors and aromas to trick your body into believing you’re actually eating nutrients.
More than 111 items on their menu contain added flavorings. This includes theirs sauces, cheeses, ice cream, hamburger meat, french fries etc.
Now, imagine a Big Mac without any added flavors. I imagine it would taste something like a leather bound book, soaked in a mud puddle. If it wasn’t for these added flavors, nobody would eat it!
The bigger problem though, is that these added flavors aren’t just in junk food or fast food, they’re in everything nowadays. Foods like yogurt, crackers, jam, bread, cereal, juice, syrup, ketchup, I could go on, but the epitome of this is, chicken flavored chicken. No that’s not a typo. You can actually buy raw chicken in the store that has added flavors so that it tastes more like chicken. I’m coming back to this.
These added flavorings, whether it’s natural or artificial, confuse our bodies into thinking we’re eating something nutritious, or more nutritious than it actually is, because of its strong flavor. And to make matters worse, food manufacturers know the potent flavor combinations that make us crave their products again and again.
The second reason why our systems have gone haywire brings us back to that chicken flavored chicken.
Why do flavorings need to be added to chickens anyways? Because chickens don’t taste as good as they used to. Food grown today is lacking the same concentration of nutrients that it had just 100 years ago. Not only because our soils are more depleted, but also because fruits, vegetables and animals, have been bred to grow bigger and faster on fewer nutrients.
Chickens used to take 16 weeks to weigh just 2.5 lbs. Now a chicken can grow to 5 lbs in just 6 weeks (data from this site)! That’s double the weight in less than half the time. This means they’re eating less nutrients because they’re not living as long, which means the chickens themselves contain less nutrients. And because they’re bigger than they should be, their nutrients are diluted, so their flavor is diluted too. This is why we now have ‘chicken flavored chicken’!
In the 1920s California produced tomatoes at a rate of 6 tons an acre. Today that number has surged to nearly 48 tons an acre due to hybridization. Each tomato plant can now grow 8 times as many tomatoes as a single plant did in the 1920s. Therefore, the tomato plants of today can’t supply all of its tomatoes with as many nutrients as it once did. Again, diluted soil, diluted nutrients and diluted flavor.
Have Your Taste Buds Gone Haywire?
Ask yourself these simple questions:
- Do you crave fast food or junk food?
- Do you eat a lot of packaged foods with added natural flavors or artificial flavors?
Hopefully you answered “no” to those questions and “yes” to the following:
- Do you enjoy and eat vegetables that are simply prepared? Raw, steamed or sauteed with little to no other ingredients or toppings added. If you have to add ranch dressing, that doesn’t count.
- Do you enjoy a variety of foods to excite all of your tastes? Not just sweet and salty, but also pungent, bitter and sour flavored foods like, sauerkraut, unflavored yogurt, limes and lemons, cacao nibs or dark chocolate (really, really dark), endive, dandelion greens, arugula, black coffee, black and green tea and even red wine. There are many choices of bitter, pungent and sour foods that you may enjoy, you don’t have to like all of them (but hopefully more than just wine). Liking just a handful of strongly flavored natural foods are a good sign that your innate nutrient request system is working.
Here's How To Crave The Food That Is Good For You:
- Eat real food. Give yourself 21 days to remove foods with added flavors (remember, this includes “naturally flavored” too). You’ll notice your cravings for the added flavors diminish and your body will start craving real food with real nutrients.
- Give yourself 10 chances to try a new food before you decide you don’t like it. That’s about how many times your body needs to experience a food to understand that it is good for you even if you don’t like the taste, yet. I must be around #8 or #9 with cilantro because, I’m finally not completely sickened when I taste it mixed in a dish. Which is good because I know how great cilantro is for detoxification. Which leads me to my third point...
- Use real spices and herbs to flavor your food. They are their own little powerhouse of nutrition! Turmeric, black pepper, garlic, oregano, parsley, cilantro, cayenne, cinnamon, and many more can be found in the spice aisle but also in a pill at the supplement store because they’re that potent! It’s no coincidence that herbs and spices are loaded with nutrients and are tasty too.
- Eat delicious food. Grow your own vegetables or shop at your local farmer’s markets for the freshest and least commercialized foods. Buy heirloom and heritage produce and meats when possible because they contain more nutrients than their counterparts. You can tell because they taste delicious!
- When you crave a food, ask yourself is it a craving for something created by nature or are you craving a fake flavor created in a lab? Of course our bodies are complex and so are cravings. Added flavorings are just one example (albeit a big example) of how and why we crave the wrong foods sometimes.
Cultivate your body’s innate ability to request the nutrients it needs. Taste food without a bunch of additives, masking or enhancing its flavor. Let your body correlate those flavors with the nutrients it received. This is the way you were meant to thrive.
This post was inspired by the book, The Dorito Effect by Mark Schatzker (highly recommended!). Examples, facts and suggestions are from my own research and education.
Watch this 60 Minutes interview with the world’s largest food flavoring company. It’s pretty enlightening and disturbing.