Why is unhealthy food so tasty?

20 December 2009

Question

“Why is it that fast food tastes great but not vegetables? And why does deep-fried food taste really, really tasty but it’s not actually good for your body?”

Answer

Helen I have something to protest about this. Vegetables can be very tasty. I bet in fact made a very nice nut roast this weekend. So I disagree on that point but I'm afraid of nasty food and not everyone agrees with me.

Ben - I think you're right. I certainly agree with you. I think especially fresh vegetables, when they still got all of the lovely taste straight from the garden, are really tasty. But I think the deep fried, the fast food, the high-calorie stuff I think that's probably a bit of an evolutionary throw back. I think our body rewards us for taking in lots of calories. And so when we do this, as it used to be essential to find food, we get a molecular reward in our brain that says, "Well done! You've found some good rich food that will keep us going throughout the winter."

So we get that sort of pleasure sensation. Nowadays finding food isn't really a major pressure like that, but we still get this reward. So when we eat something that's full in calories, this brain mechanism still kicks off and we think that we've really enjoyed it. He also asked, and this is a very interesting one, "Is there any deep fried food that's better than others?" Now, Helen, I'm not sure how you serve your vegetables?

Helen - Tempura vegetables are quite nice, aren't they? And that's a form of deep frying. I mean, I'm sure a deep-fried piece of broccoli is slightly less good for you than that piece of nice, fresh, unfried, lightly-steamed broccoli. But you're still, if you haven't overcooked it, getting lots of the nutrients and the vitamins that are so important in vegetables if you do that kind of style of cooking. So that's not too bad, I should say.

Ben - That was exactly what I thought because, with the tempura food, the food is still very fresh. And it's fried only for a very short time. You're supposed to use ice-cold batter - apparently that's why it's so fluffy and tasty. Basically, the food isn't overcooked. And I suspect actually that boiling carrots for 10 minutes will probably get rid of more of the nutrients than deep frying them for one minute.

Helen - Yeah. I quite agree actually! Yes! If school dinners could be more "tempura vegetables" instead of carrots boiled to death, then that would be a good thing, I think!

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