Tuesday, 28 March 2017

When it comes to the crunch! Why you should tune in to food textures

by Claire Marnane

When was the last time you noticed the texture of the foods you eat?  Are you aware of what sort of textures you enjoy, or is this something that passes unnoticed as you eat your food?  Do you pay much attention at all to what you eat… or do you multi-task while eating?  Maybe you do the odd social media check, answer a few quick emails, or watch some TV while the food goes down largely untasted and unnoticed?

Texture is often unfairly overlooked in the face its brighter, bolder sibling: Flavour.  Yet tuning in to both the taste and texture of foods is a key aspect of eating mindfully. 

Mindful eating is rightly getting more attention these days as being a practise which:
·      helps people stop overeating
·      helps people distinguish between food choices driven by emotional eating versus true taste preferences, and
·      for those with a long history of dieting, it’s an important tool to help you re-learn what foods you actually like to eat, if you want to stop dieting and learn to eat intuitively

The other day I was talking to a colleague about how I am a huge hot cross bun fan.  (Yes, dietitians can eat hot cross buns, and I personally have a real love for these aromatically spiced delights.)

It turned out she also enjoyed hot cross buns, and we avidly embarked on a discussion of how best to prepare them.  Certainly, we both said, they must be served hot to enhance the smells and flavours of the cinnamon and nutmeg… but here’s where she said something shocking to me: she only ever microwaves the buns to keep the 'ideal chewy texture'. 

What?!  Eat a chewy hot cross bun?!  NEVER!  I go to great lengths to achieve maximum CRUNCH, and frankly find any alternative to be completely unappetising.  It got me thinking about food textures; here I am saying I wouldn’t like the same food prepared in a way that would make it chewy.  The change in texture alone determines whether I love it, or dislike it!  Now I stop and think about it, I infinitely prefer well-toasted bread over untoasted, raw carrot sticks over cooked, and I love to sprinkle nuts and bean sprouts over a laksa to give pops of satisfying crunch when I eat it.

Yet, how many people pay attention to food textures while eating?  Chefs do, they structure their meals around textural items, but does the person eating it notice this?  Well, they would if they ate mindfully, making the meal more satisfying and enjoyable!

Why not take the time now to give food textures the spotlight?  It’s a good opportunity to practise your mindful eating skills.  Here are some suggestions:

·      raw carrot sticks vs steamed carrots
·      smooth peanut butter (or any nut paste of your preference) vs crunchy
·      yoghurt with stewed fruit vs yoghurt with diced raw fruit
·      … and of course, feel free to try hot cross buns (or fruit loaf) toasted vs microwaved, or even just room temperature.

It only takes a few minutes out of your day, but make sure you have no other distractions and can give the food your full attention as you do this.  Before you take a bite, observe the food and notice the texture of it upon your hands.  Now smell the food.  Now - and this is where I’m veering away from some other mindful eating practises - take a little bite and munch slowly and mindfully.  (Usually the advice is to leave the food in your mouth without chewing, all the better to observe the taste.  Here, we want the texture to shine, and that means you need to chew straight away because a crunchy hot cross bun will simply turn to mush left unchewed in your mouth!)

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you try these foods:
·      Does one texture appeal to you more than another?
·      Does the taste of the food alter between the two options?
o   If so, how does it change?  What word would you use to describe the difference? 
·      Does one option have a more intense aroma?
·      Have you ever noticed these changes in foods before? 


Reflecting back on what you’ve just done, do you think you regularly eat in a mindful, or a mindless way?  Remember, mindful eating and really experiencing the foods you eat is an important step in developing a healthy relationship with food and appetite.

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