Factors Affecting Nutrition: Development, Gender, Ethnicity and Culture, Beliefs About Food, and Personal Preferences
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Factors Affecting Nutrition: Development, Gender, Ethnicity and Culture, Beliefs About Food, and Personal Preferences

Habits about eating are influenced by developmental considerations, gender, ethnicity and culture, beliefs about food, personal preferences, religious practices, lifestyle, economics, medication and therapy, health, alcohol consumption, advertising, and psychologic factors.

Although the nutritional content of food is an important consideration when planning a diet, an individual's food preferences and habits are often a major factor affecting actual food intake. Habits about eating are influenced by developmental considerations, gender, ethnicity and culture, beliefs about food, personal preferences, religious practices, lifestyle, economics, medication and therapy, health, alcohol consumption, advertising, and psychologic factors.

Development

People in rapid periods of growth (i.e., infancy and adolescence) have an increased needs for nutrients. Elders, on the other hand, need fewer calories and dietary changes in view of the risk of coronary heart disease, osteoporosis, and hypertension.

Gender

Nutrient requirements are different for men and women because of body composition and reproductive functions. The larger muscle mass of men translates into a greater need for calories and proteins. Because of menstruation, women require more iron than men do prior to menopause. Pregnant and lactating women have increased caloric and fluid needs.

Ethnicity and Culture

Ethnicity often determines food preferences. Traditional food (e.g., rice for Asians, pasta for Italians, curry for Indians) are eaten long after other customs are abandoned.

Nurses should not use a "good food, bad food" approach, but rather should realize that variations of intake are acceptable under different circumstances. The only "universally" accepted guidelines are to eat moderately to maintain correct body weight. Food preference probably differs as much among individuals of the same cultural background as it does generally between cultures. Not all Italians like pizza, for example, and many undoubtedly enjoy Mexican food.

Beliefs About Food

Beliefs about effects of foods on health and well-being can affect food choices. Many people acquire their beliefs about food from television, magazines, and other media. For example, some people are reducing their intake of animal fats in response to evidence that excessive consumption of animal fats is a major risk factor in vascular disease, including heart attack and stroke.

Food fads that involve nontraditional food practices are relatively common. A fad is a widespread but short-lived interest or a practice followed with considerable zeal. It may be based either on the belief that certain foods have special powers or on the notion that certain foods are harmful. Food fads appeal to the individual seeking a miracle cure for a disease, the person who desires superior heath, or one who wants to delay aging. Some fad diets are harmless, but others are potentially dangerous. Determining the needs a fad diet fills for the client enables the nurse both to support these needs and to suggest a more nutritious diet.

Personal Preference

People develop likes and dislikes based on associations with a typical food. A child who loves to visit his grandparents may love pickled crabapples because they are served in the grandparent's home. Another child who dislikes a very strict aunt grows up to dislike the chicken casserole she often prepares. People often carry such preferences into adulthood.

Individual likes and dislikes can also be related to familiarity. Children often say they dislike a food before they sample it. Some adults are very adventurous and eager to try new foods. Others prefer to eat the same foods repeatedly. Preferences in the tastes, smells, flavors (blends of taste and smell), temperatures, colors, shapes, and sizes of food influence a person's food choices. For example, some people may prefer sweet and sour tastes to bitter or salty tastes. Texture play a great role in food preferences. Some people prefer crisp food to limp food, firm to soft, tender to tough, smooth to lumpy, or dry to soggy.

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