October 26, 2011

Cibophobia: The Fear of New Food

As a child, I used to leave those weird looking vegetables in my plate, or remove those mushrooms from my pizza. I refused to try those shrimps mom prepared, or the Okra stew with rice stew, or even the asparagus soup. I was afraid to eat fruits except apples and bananas. Back then I was a picky eater but as I grew up, I started having the courage to explore most of them.But of course this “pickiness” remains deep inside me every time I want to eat something new.Sensory Scientists named this “pickiness” as Cibophobia or food neophobia, the reluctance and sometimes avoidance to eat novel foods. It is immensely affected by one's culture, gender, age, and educational, social, economical status as well as the place of residence: urban versus rural.

This food fussiness might be a common behavioral phenomenon observed among many children,and is a personality trait that influences adult's everyday food choices. How many of us merely don’t want to try to eat that food because of our fear to get sick? But if this fussy behavior got exaggerated, scientists indicate that it can become an eating disorder, just like anorexia, or bulimia! That's because neophobia of food disturbs one's health.
For example, a person who abhors trying new vegetables and sticks only to a couple in his diet, risks the intake of important vitamins. Thus, understanding food preferences allows scientists to understand dietary habits,and it can significantly help scientists explain the prevalence of obesity and vitamin deficiencies, even the presence of chronic diseases.

Remarkably, a was study conducted in 2009 in the American University of Beirut, other Lebanese universities as well as California Polytechnic State and Cuesta College campuses. The levels of food neophobia were evaluated by presenting different new foods to the students as well as several factors were assessed such as place of origin, socio-economic status, education and exposure to other cultures.

Lebanese college students were found to be more food neophobic than the Americans. This was influenced by the number of trips they had taken outside Lebanon, the number of times they ate fast food per week
and the number of times they went to ethnic food restaurants per week and the presence of food
allergies and a history of sickness upon trying new foods. (Read the full Study here)

It is important to realize that the linchpin in reducing neophobia among students is providing adequate and encouraging information. And here falls the responsibility of nutritionists and food scientists. But most importantly, it's our own will to be courageous when tasting new food! My advice is not to affix our diets to couple of foods.

The next time you are in the supermarket, choose diverse vegetables and fruits. When you are in a restaurant, discover new plates. You don’t have to be in another country to venture your taste buds with new foods.

Remember "the stomach is the only limit"!

Bon Appetite!

*This article also appeared in Outlook Newspaper, volume 44, Issue 3. Follow the link to read the full issue.
**Picture from web.  

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