The factors that influence food choices go much beyond our food preferences. Allergies can heavily influence which foods we choose to eat for survival by limiting available options at mealtime. At an even broader level, socio-economic factors and the quality of food that is available to people significantly impact food choices. Six main nutrients make up key components of our diets to give the body what it needs to function properly. These nutrients give us energy to live and support the immune system to ensure we do not get sick. While internal and external factors, such as allergies and economic hardship, can affect which foods we get these nutrients from, they are still a vital part of our diet.
Macronutrients: Protein, Fat and Carbohydrates
Macronutrients are vital nutrients that the body needs and cannot make or at least cannot make enough of to survive. This is why the food we eat must come from several categories to meet these needs. Protein, fat and carbohydrates are all needed in large volumes compared to other necessary nutrients.
Protein, which we get through eggs, meat, fish, beans and nuts is vital for growth, but it also contributes to overall health and maintenance of the body. It is among the highest priorities of the diet because every cell in the body, like hair, nails, bone and skin are all made with protein. It is also essential to good health because all hormones and antibodies, which help fight off bad bacteria, also consist of protein and the amino acids that make up the protein itself.
Fat has gained a reputation as a bad thing over the years, but healthy fats are important to a healthy body and diet, as well. Unsaturated fats like omega-3s and omega-6s can be found in foods like olive oil, avocados, nuts and chia seeds. These fatty acids help the body to function by increasing the amount of vitamins and minerals that are absorbed, as well as aid muscle movement and blood clotting.
Carbohydrates are also often seen as an enemy. They are, however, part of a complete, healthy diet as the body's fuel and the source for roughly half a day's calories. While carbs are good, healthy carbs, not white bread and pasta, are what you should consume. Choose foods like fibrous fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains and beans.
Micronutrients: Water-Soluble Vitamins, Fat-Soluble Vitamins and Minerals
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals that the body also needs to obtain through diet, but in significantly less quantities compared to macronutrients. In addition to minerals, the body needs two types of vitamins: water-soluble and fat-soluble.
Water-soluble vitamins dissolve in water and include about eight types of vitamin B, as well as vitamin C. Because these vitamins are not stored in the body, they are easily flushed out, so it is important to get enough vitamin B and C through a daily, healthy diet. Vitamin B largely helps stimulate chemical reactions that trigger energy production, while vitamin C supports the immune system. Foods like whole grains, meat, fish, eggs, avocado, carrots, citrus, spinach, bell peppers, almonds and sweet potatoes are good sources for all vitamin B and C needs.
Fat-soluble vitamins do not break down in water and are mostly absorbed when eaten with a source of healthy fat. This describes vitamins A, E, D and K, which contribute to organ function, a strong immune system, blood clotting and strong bone development. Leafy greens, pumpkin, almonds, spinach, dairy, fish and even exposure to sunlight can provide the right quantities of these vitamins.
Minerals like calcium, sodium, magnesium and potassium are some of the most important minerals the body needs, though there are others that are also necessary. These minerals aid muscle function, strengthen bones and help the body to maintain blood pressure and fluid balance. Dairy, broccoli, yogurt, fish, turkey, lentils, bananas, garlic and onions all provide the minerals the body needs.
EUFIC Determinants of Food Choice
EUFIC, or the European Food Information Council, based in Brussels, Belgium, has studied and determined the key influencing factors with regard to food choice. While there are six determinants, there are three larger categories of influences on food choice: physical, emotional and economic.
The first category, physical, can be expanded to include physical positioning and skills regarding food and biological influences. A person's access to food and the skills they possess to prepare and cook food in a healthy manner are key to their food choices. If fresh produce is not readily available, a person will turn to whatever is convenient and nearby, which may be fast food, prepared food or heavily processed foods, all of which lack key nutritional value. Once again, if a person only knows how to cook a food in a lot of oil, that also detracts from nutritional value.
Lack of education with regard to nutrition may also lead to less than ideal standards of foods for a proper diet, but biology also plays a significant role. The level at which a person feels hunger and the point at which they feel satiety impact the types of food and how much of that food they consume. If they have a large appetite, they may have a taste for more filling foods, which are often carbs, and so consume too many of them.
Next is the emotional category, which touches on the mood and beliefs of the consumer. Moods, such as stress, guilt or even happiness, influence people to splurge on less nutritious foods and likely to overeat as well. Self-held beliefs about food also touch on the emotions that impact food choices. For example, it may be more likely that someone would overindulge in sweets when they feel stressed because they believe a huge, one-time indulgence will not become a pattern.
Finally, there are the economic determinants. The income someone makes and the cost of food can limit what foods are actually available to them; they might not be able to afford produce that is local, for example. If affordable, healthy food is not available nearby, it is more likely that people will purchase processed foods, fast food or other cheaper options simply to end the hunger they feel without getting the nutrients the body actually needs. The culture and even family that surrounds someone is an economic influence, as well. If there is a culture of eating fast food among family members and in an entire neighborhood because that is what is historically easy to access, then that behavior is more likely to continue.
How Time Affects Food Choices
Those who live a busy lifestyle may also find themselves making convenient food selections, which can lead to eating fast, processed foods. Those who plan their meals, rather than graze throughout the day as they work tend to be healthier rather than overweight. Meal planning and preparing foods with proper nutrition is key to ensuring a healthy lifestyle despite a tight schedule.