Food Neophobia Could Increase Your Risk for Type 2 Diabetes

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We know that food choices greatly impact how our bodies function, but did you know that your willingness to try new foods could also contribute significantly to your health? Recent research now suggests that this type of new-food phobia may increase your risk of type 2 diabetes and, subsequently, heart disease and the other health risks that come along with diabetes.

Food neophobia, as this fear of new foods is called, is a naturally occurring aversion to tasting and eating foods with which a person is not familiar. It can be a hereditary or a learned trait, but it keeps people from trying new foods, which leads to decreased variety of food intake and, generally, less intake of healthy foods.

A team of researchers from the University of Helsinki in Finland and University of Tartu in Estonia studied the eating behavior of people aged 25 to 74 over a seven-year period. They were particularly interested in food neophobia and measured how participants’ eating patterns contributed to dietary variety, lifestyle diseases, and risk factors for such diseases.

Researchers found that neophobic eaters were less likely to get enough fiber, protein, and monounsaturated fatty acids and more likely to get too much saturated fat and salt. Participants with food neophobia more often had adverse fatty acid profiles and an increased level of inflammatory markers in their blood. These tendencies contributed to a higher prevalence of type 2 diabetes and heart disease in people with food neophobia over time.

“The findings reinforce the idea that a versatile and healthy diet plays a key role, and even has an independent role in health,” said Markus Perola from the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare.

The findings of this study held true regardless of participants’ weight, age, socioeconomic status, gender or living area, reiterating the fact that weight is far from the only factor affecting a person’s risk of developing diabetes. Eating healthier, even if it doesn’t result in weight loss, could still help keep you from getting diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other life-threatening conditions.

Food neophobia is more severe than just your general everyday picky eating habits, although those can lead to issues as well, depending on how picky the person is and which foods he or she chooses to eat. Food neophobia is different, however, because it can be hereditary. In fact, twin studies suggest that up to 78 percent of food neophobia is acquired through your genes

Luckily, the non-hereditary portion of food neophobia can be changed by a person’s upbringing and exposure to new foods throughout their life. Researchers hope that their newfound knowledge of food neophobia’s downsides can help encourage and motivate people to get over their fears and try new healthy foods, as well as feed their children new healthy options on a regular basis, even though it may be difficult.

“If we can intervene in deviant eating behaviours, such as food neophobia, already in childhood or youth, this will help to prevent potential future health problems early on,” says Perola. “Hereditary factors and our genotype only determine our predisposition to food neophobia. Early childhood education and care and lifestyle guidance in adulthood can provide support in the development of a diverse diet.”

Are you afraid to try new foods? We’d love to hear your experience with food neophobia in the comments.

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Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?
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