March/April 2009 Alternative Health
You Are What You Eat: Choosing Food with Your Senses

by Steve Gagné

Picture the foods of your fondest memories. As you see them in your mind's eye, let yourself recall the flavors, aromas and the way you feel as you savor them.

The smell of fresh baked bread on a cold winter's day. The taste of crisp sautéed vegetables, lightly flavored with soy sauce and a dash of hot pepper. The captivating sight of a holiday feast with a steaming turkey centerpiece surrounded by oyster stuffing, candied yams, fresh green salad, fluffy mashed potatoes and gravy, deep red cranberry sauce, grilled marinated wild mushrooms. That first glass of perfectly smooth semidry wine.

Go ahead, close your eyes, taste and smell.

Your Sensory Signature

There's no doubt about it, no matter who you are or how educated you are, Rhodes scholar and road worker alike have powerful sensory associations with foods. They have nothing to do with your reasoned thought - they are visceral and compelling.

And the truth is, those sensory associations comprise one of the most common ways people choose their foods. How a food looks, tastes, smells and feels as you eat it, whether it is cold or hot, crunchy or soft - all these physical characteristics of a food have tremendous sway over both your feeling for it and how it affects you.

We usually think of this association in terms of "taste" - yet the sense of taste per se is only a small part of the hypnotic sensory associations food can hold for us. Physiologically, the sense of smell actually has more to do with how a food "tastes" than the sense of taste itself. And that sense of taste/smell rarely stands alone in our palette of preferences. Most often it combines with other physical features of food, such as its texture, in determining our likes and dislikes.

Your sensorial preferences in food are quite specific and unique, much like your fingerprints.

Each of us has distinct preferences for foods with certain flavors, textures, temperatures and colors. Here are some of the many shades of variety that color our choices:

Flavors: Sweet, sour, bitter, spicy or salty.

Textures: Soft and moist, watery and viscous, hard and dry, crunchy, soft and chewy, heavy and dense, light and crispy, greasy, slimy or pasty.

Temperatures: Cold, cool, warm, hot or room temperature.

Colors: Bright, dark, pastels and often specific colors: red, white and yellow.

These factors all represent physical qualities of food - but they can have both physical and emotional effects on us by energetically influencing our vitality, moods and feelings.

Soft and creamy foods: Puddings, some fruits and soft cereals (porridge) are often associated with small children and the elderly. You may have a preference for these foods because they nourish a soft, childlike innocent quality or a passive, easygoing nature.

Hard and crunchy foods: Crackers, toasted or crusty bread, and some types of cookies are often associated with anger, anxiety, irritability or frustration. These are often eaten aggressively, so you can hear the crunch and feel it as you eat them.

Heavy and dense foods: Thick deli sandwiches, hearty stews or peanut butter sandwiches on heavy whole wheat bread are often associated with procrastination, resting, inertia or maintaining the status quo and a general lack of physical motivation.

Light and crispy foods: Raw vegetables, salads, some raw fruits, chips or popcorn are often associated with lack of self-control or spontaneous emotional expression, or can also relate to freshness, fun and carefree energy.

These are just a few of the food choices people make based on texture. Yet even these textures rarely stand alone as a choice. They are usually combined with a particular flavor, color or temperature.

For example, a person who chooses to eat milk chocolate desires the sweet flavor but also a soft and chewy or soft and moist texture. Another person with a taste for potato chips, corn chips or rice cakes desires the salty flavor in addition to a light and crunchy texture. Bread with peanut butter will tend to have a sweet flavor with a heavy and dense texture, and pickles can have a sour flavor with a light and crispy texture.

The person who wants plain corn chips is making a very different statement than the one who prefers corn chips with guacamole and salsa. A person who eats most of his food cold, directly from the refrigerator, is either consciously or unconsciously supporting an emotionally cold personality and is likely to suffer from digestive distress, compared to the person who takes the time to warm his food for easier digestion.

Here are some more examples - more food for thought:

  • When you regularly choose to eat bitter foods, you can develop a bitter edge to your character.
  • Hard and dry foods can contribute to a hard and dry character.
  • You may find an especially heavy, sticky food irresistible (or habitual) because it supports a procrastinating inertia you aren't ready - or don't realize you're ready - to let go of.

Some people think they dislike a particular food, even though they've never actually tried it. This is common in children, and adults often insist it's "not reasonable" - yet we adults do it more than we realize too. And in fact, usually there is indeed a very good "reason," even if we're not aware of it.

How so? This sort of "blind dislike" may be based on a single quality, whether appearance, texture, temperature, color or some other physical association. People may have no "rational" reason not to eat that food - they may simply not want to become that way themselves.

The dislike of a particular food often can be altered by preparing the food in such a way as to change one or more of its qualities. Oatmeal is a good example. Alone, oatmeal is a boring, passive, pasty and neutral food. Add some roasted almonds, raisins, a little fresh cream, and some natural sweetener and you have something quite enjoyable to eat, with a variety of flavors, textures and energies that not only raises the nutritional profile dramatically, it also makes oatmeal worth eating.

Steve Gagné, author of Food Energetics: The Spiritual, Emotional, and Nutritional Power of What We Eat, is a Colorado-based natural health and nutrition counselor. Visit www.stevegagne.com. Excerpted with permission by Healing Arts Press at www.healingartspress.com.

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March 2009 Cover