May 28, 2015

The role of our eyes in our eating habits

It didn't come as a surprise to me when I heard this phrase in a TV show many years ago - "We first eat with our eyes". The clean cutlery with well-presented, colorful food makes our mouths water, even before we take a first bite. No wonder, gourmet food in star restaurants are so expensive. The ambience and presentation are part of the experience they provide.

Brands understand this fact too and as a student of Consumer Behavior course, I have read about the concept of experiential marketing and how it plays a significant role in ensuring consumers "experience" the brand through all their senses. The fast food chains entice us with huge hoardings of cheese-dripping, colorful burgers. Our eyes get attracted by the visuals and our mind has already made up a plan for the upcoming weekend. Kids feel the impact the most and as a mother of a 3 year old, I'm well-aware of this fact. :-)

This "eating-with-your-eyes-first" behavior manifests itself in many restaurants. As soon as we see the oil in our pooris, we immediately want to wipe them off with a paper napkin. Similar behavior occurs when a distant relative or our grandmother treats us with traditional delicacies like appams and adhirasams. But little do we realize or take note of the amount of oil that goes into store-bought pastries with creamy icing on top. Until I started baking at home, I never realized the quantity of oil that goes into baking a 8" cake. Please note that I bake simple tea cakes with no icing.

The same behavior holds true for cookies too, the only difference being that they are loaded with butter. We tend to avoid the 1 tsp ghee on top of our rice/parathas but the numerous ways by which fats enter our body through these packaged foods is something we hardly notice.

We have a big love affair with the color "white". Our eyes love it and sends a message that the "white" object in front of us is pure and divine. All white foods like polished white rice, sugar, free flowing salt and refined flour have occupied a permanent place in our pantry while research is correlating these foods to the increased onset of diabetes and hypertension.

The healthier, non-white food products have been pushed to the back-burner for the last 3-4 decades (I'm glad they are slowly coming back inch by inch). Brown rice, ragi (finger-millet), bajra (pearl millet), jowar,  jaggery, palm sugar, millets etc may not look appealing to our eyes but our bodies would thank us later for consuming such nutrient-rich not-so-beautiful foods.

Let's try not to decide our choice of food based only on how it "looks" (same logic applies for various other decisions in life too).

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