Why Do We Biologically Crave Food That Will Kill Us?

We’ve progressed as humans enough to know that vegetables are healthy, and eating lots of them will keep you alive longer than a diet of fried cheese-topped root beer floats, or whatever food monstrosity people are into now. So why don’t they taste better, especially when compared to unhealthy options? If broccoli tasted as good as French fries, wouldn’t that be better for long-term survival?

Humans are a pretty lazy bunch

It’s time to face the facts. Humans are lazy animals. We also work a lot, have TV shows to watch, commute, watch kids, pay bills, and oh my God what have we gotten ourselves into?

Food design has evolved with modern life — chopping up a head of broccoli and steaming it takes far more time than grabbing a burger from the drive-thru or reaching for a bag of chips. Stacy Goldberg, founder of Savorfull, also notes that unhealthy food is way more accessible when we’re on the go, meaning crappy choices are super easy to make. “Vending machines, cafeterias, and convenience stores are stocked full of sugary, fatty foods that are likely to prey on our cravings.”

It would be nice if vending machines sold fresh fruits and veggies, but that’s only a realityin a few places. When the easiest food to grab is a candy bar, and not pre-chopped carrot sticks, you learn to crave that sugar hit, especially when your blood sugar inevitably drops and your body tells you you’re hungry again.

Unhealthy food makes you sick, and you still can’t resist

We can trace a lot of our modern-day ills back to the rise of processed foods that have taken over basically everything during the last 40 or so years. Dr. Dian Griesel, co-author of TurboCharged, says that modern trends in refined foods — which include processed, sugar- and fat-laden culinary delights like oatmeal cream pies — aren’t just plumping us up. They’re extremely desirable even though we know they’re making us fat.

This contributes to a cycle of sickness that’s difficult to escape once you’re trapped in it. “The rise of obesity and other modern diseases such as… cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, high triglycerides, and hypoglycemia, to name a few — along with so-called ‘food addiction’ — are all the end result of consuming too many of these ‘engineered’ modern foods in our daily diets,” Griesel says.

Still, given all this, wouldn’t it be advantageous for your survival to find kale more delicious than Twinkies? Well, yes, but there are some explanations for why that turns out not to be the way things work in reality.

Evolution is at work, but it’s working against you

One of the most important factors to consider here is the tiny timescale of food processing compared with the astronomical timescale of human evolution. It’s easy to look around now and see that the surest path to survival is considering mustard greens superior to Frito pie, but it didn’t always seem that way. No, back when food was scarce and the human brain was growing, we learned to prefer dense energy sources, like fat. Now that food companies can exploit those preferences, you may just find entire Western populations eating themselves to death. Which in some twisted way may wind up favoring those who can tamp down their desire for fat and sugar… but that’s eons down the line.

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