In the old fable, the slow and steady tortoise wins the race. And when it comes to weight loss, slower is also better say researchers.
According to a study at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, when you choose foods to munch on, the first factor you consider is how it tastes. But milliseconds later, your brain takes into account how healthy the food is. So if you can hesitate a moment before scarfing down donuts, cookies, chips or other junk food, you have a better chance of choosing a healthier snack.
“In typical food choices, individuals need to consider attributes like health and taste in their decisions,” says researcher Nicolette Sullivan. “What we wanted to find out was at what point the taste of the foods starts to become integrated into the choice process, and at what point health is integrated.”
Sullivan says that the taste qualities of individual foods incorporate concrete, innate characteristics that are easily called to mind. How healthy a food is, on the other hand, is a more abstract idea. That’s why health factors take longer for the mind to process than taste information.
In their tests on hungry people, the researchers evaluated how quickly taste was considered in making food choices as well as how far behind health considerations came into play.
The results demonstrated that, for the average person, the influence of taste is felt about 200 milliseconds before health information enters into the decision-making process. About a third of the people in the study never took health into consideration at all when making food choices. Taste was the only thing that entered their thoughts.
Sullivan believes that for most of us hesitation in making food choices can be a key factor in making healthier decisions: “Since we know that taste appears before health, we know that it has an advantage in the ultimate decision. However, once health comes online, if you wait – allowing the health information to accumulate for longer – that might give health a chance to catch up and influence the choice.”