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Your Body Knows

Sometimes things that are bad for you feel great.

It's called a perverse incentive. It pulls you in and rewards you in the short term, while the long term consequences quietly accumulate in the background. Its hard to catch this kind of thing because the positive feedback is just so stimulating while the negative feedback is delayed and subtle. Once the negative consequences accumulate enough to notice, correcting them is often an overwhelming task.

Our world is full of these perverse incentives. Eating Doritos is a simple example. They taste great in the moment, but we all know they aren't good for us.

But thankfully, there are things in this world that good in the moment AND good in the long term.

Like eating really good and healthy food! Believe it or not, really nutritious food actually tastes better. And your body was designed to detect that nutrition--that's what your taste buds are actually for--they determine if the thing in your mouth is good for you or not. When it tastes better, that is the sign that it is nutritious and your sense of pleasure is there to encourage you to continue eating the good things.

If on the other hand, the food tastes bad, that is a sign that it lacks nutrition. You'll feel revulsion or disinterest and move on to other things in your search for the nutrition your body needs.

A lot of people have a hard time accepting this. They've been trained through their long eating experience that "healthy" food tastes bad. And "unhealthy" food (like Doritos) taste good. They loath eating healthy because they imagine it'll be a drag. So how can I say that healthy food tastes better if most people's experience tells them otherwise?

Unfortunately its not just because the modern food industry has pumped its processed foods full of artificial flavor to overwhelm and trick your taste-buds. Its also because they've succeeded in growing versions of the healthy food that look the same but are almost completely devoid of the nutrition.

So on the one hand, your taste-buds are fooled with the artificial flavor additives and refined sugars into thinking the food their eating is good. In reality, the flavor enhanced food is fairly devoid of flavor (or worse) but your flavor detectors are artificially stimulated. Pleasure is triggered in your brain when the taste-buds are tricked, and voila--you're compelled to keep consuming! It just feels so good. And all the while you're ingesting things your body would normally reject.

But that is only one side of the problem. On the other hand, what we normally understand to be "healthy" food has also been hijacked. I'll write more about this issue next week but the short story is that those "healthy" foods aren't as nutritious for you as you think. And that's why they doesn't taste very good.

Your body has been designed to discern nutrition though its taste buds (and the digestive system generally). The system works and under normal circumstances you can trust it to do its job.

But that's not all. It's also important to notice that taste doesn't just vary between Doritos and kale. That much is obvious. What is often less noticed and yet perhaps more interesting is that flavor can vary widely even across many samples of one kind of food. For instance, carrots can have a huge variance in flavor. Some carrots, like the canned or frozen baby carrots have very little flavor. They are mostly known by their crunch and snap and more often then not people will drench them in dressing (because they're flavorless on their own). Freshly picked winter carrots that were grown in very living soil on the other hand will reach a level of sweetness that is often shocking to people who haven't had them before. Two examples of the same food. Two wildly different flavor profiles.

So food varies in its flavor (and therefore nutrition profiles). That's the first thing to know.

And your body can easily detect the differences in nutrition. That's the second thing to know.

And the last thing to notice, is that apart from disguised and artificially adjusted foods, the healthier food actually tastes better. And not just subtly and not just to the foodies out there with highly developed taste pallets. Its a big and noticeable difference.

In fact, to see this fact most clearly you just have to watch how children react. Children are a great test case because they have not been significantly enculturated. Meaning, when they are young they usually don't really understand what "healthy" or "unhealthy" is. That is a little beyond them. A little too abstract. What they do know, is what they like and what they don't like. Their lived and embodied experience is far more powerful to them then their abstracted theories about what is "good for them".

And because of that, they are often more honest then us (emperors new clothes anyone?). So feed them some vegetables and see what happens. In our long experience children enjoy and eagerly eat vegetables that have been properly grown in healthy soil and therefore have nigh levels of nutrition in them. The kids know it and go for it.

This is often confusing to people because many people have a hard time getting their kids to eat vegetables. Many kids refuse straight up. So what's going on? Well we've already established that the human body detects nutrition through flavor which releases positive emotion responses (dopamine) in the brain. So if the kids is recoiling....then it MUST BE THE WRONG VEGETABES! Keep in mind that vegetables vary widely in their nutritional profiles and therefore their flavor. Not all vegetables are the same. They certainly don't taste the same.

So in many cases, its not the kids. Its actually the vegetables.

And the silly parents who have confused their own taste systems and overridden them with abstract notions of what SHOULD and what SHOULDN'T be eaten.

But you can't blame the adults. After years of eating flavorless vegetables and artificially flavorful junk food, its hard to trust the systems in our body that are supposed to guide us. Perverse incentives have us thinking the junk is good and good is junk.

But it helps to know that your body knows and the taste system still does work. If you stick to whole foods that have not been altered with deceptive ingredients, your taste systems CAN guide you to the more nutrition options. It doesn't unmask the artificially enhanced foods, but it will let you know when natural foods aren't living up to their potential! Just taste and see if the food is good!

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