eli5: Why is it that unhealthy foods taste so good(chocolate, soda, candy, fried foods etc.) despite it being bad for us while healthier foods (veggies, whole grain etc.) taste much worse in comparison?


Wouldn’t our bodies recognize which foods that are most beneficial and demand to have more of that?

In: Biology


Our bodies evolved for about 2 million years to crave the most energy efficient food – because when you run into something energy dense like sugar, it can mean a difference between life and death for a hunter/gatherer who hasn’t eaten in 3 days while stalking a herd of prey animals. So sugar cravings are hardwired in our physiology. Because sugar was rare, and hard to obtain. Same story with fat – when most of things you eat are nutrient poor, like grass, berries, roots, random meat you had to run down on the savannah, an occasional bite of fat could power you for days. But again, finding that fat was rare and hard work. Now, fat is easily available….

Our brain is still programmed by our ancestors. Their situation being sugar, fat and salty foods (the fastfood holy trinity) were rare in their surrounding.

So that’s why it’s more delicious, it used to be a very desirable and useful thing because that food was more scarce. Now we have developed to have it in abudance, pretty much in excess, in a very short time but our nature still thinks it’s special.

So that’s why it’s so much tastier.

>Wouldn’t our bodies recognize which foods that are most beneficial and demand to have more of that?

Yes and that’s partially why “bad foods” taste so good. They used to be rare introductions of sugars and fats that are incredibly valuable to a surviving animal in the wild but are detrimental when consumed in large and continuous supply.

It’s also worth noting that vegetables have increasingly been bred for increased profit instead of increased flavour. It’s often the case that heirloom crops have much better flavours and crops grown at your own property or farmed locally, taste better because you can eat them when they’re actually fresh instead of weeks after or weeks before because they were picked unripe to survive transport.

What makes chocolate, soda, and candy all unhealthy is that they contain a lot of refined sugars. Refined sugars don’t make you feel full when you eat them, and they get absorbed into the body really quickly so what happens is that it’s very easy to eat far more calories than you need when foods are loaded with refined sugars and the body struggles to process them as quickly as they’re being absorbed.

In the wild, sugar generally comes with a lot of fiber and other substances which do make you feel full (compare drinking soda or eating candy to eating fruit) so it’s harder to overeat, and the fiber slows down how quickly the body absorbs the sugar.

As for taste, part of it is that people evolved to crave energy-dense sources of food like sugars and fats, but part of it is also cultural and economic. In the United States in particular, there is an insane amount of added sugars in everything so people are used to things being very sweet.

The availability and quality of fresh produce matters a lot too. A lot of fruits and vegetables have to be shipped quite a long distance, often by ship in order to be economically viable so they’re picked before they’re ripe and then artificially ripened later. And there are a fair number of “food deserts” where fresh produce isn’t available so people get used to eating unhealthy foods.

Also, a lot of fruits and vegetables are bred to look good on supermarket shelves rather than taste good (the red delicious apple is a prime example because while certainly red it was anything but delicious). A large strawberry may look appealing, but usually smaller ones have more taste.