"I like what I like," you tell yourself as you eat the same meals over and over. Now, there's nothing wrong with having preferences, but you could be doing yourself a serious disservice. Being an adventurous eater comes with some great benefits.
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Street food is one of the best ways to experience a country's culture. While these makeshift stalls might look risky, street food is often just as safe -- if not safer -- than restaurants. Ask any experienced adventurer. Still, there are a few basic rules you should know to avoid any problems.
Adventurous Eating Might Make You Healthier
Variety is the spice of life, and it could be the secret to keeping trim. Studies suggest that neophobics, or those who are afraid to try new foods, are more likely to be overweight because they tend to stick with blander, more kilojoule-packed foods come mealtime. Neophobics may also have deficits in nutrients such as protein, monounsaturated fats and some minerals.
Think about it -- if you don't try anything new, your meal options never change, and you'll always reach for the same foods. Those foods might be healthy, but it can be a problem if they aren't. By sticking to what you know, you never encounter healthier alternatives to the types of foods you like, and you'll always be missing the same key nutrients.
Adventurous eating also makes meals a more conscious practice. You're not just taking a food you're familiar with and consuming it as fast as possible, you're slowing down to experience the new flavours, textures and sensations. It's a little stressful sometimes, but when you slow down, you're less likely to overeat.
You Get Your Pick of Foods During Meals
My favourite thing about being an adventurous eater is that nothing on the table is ever off limits. If I'm with a large group of people this often means I get to eat more of the good, fun stuff while everyone else fills up on bread. I may have to concede some of the bland, boring items to the picky eaters, but I want my meals to be an event, not just fuel.
Meals Aren't as Stressful When You Travel
Travel is already stressful, but when you add bizarre meals to the equation it can be a lot worse -- unless you have an adventurous palate. If you can train your mind and mouth to be hungry for anything, meals are the best part about travelling. You're not staring at menus in confusion; you're playing an exciting game of "I bet this is good!"
Besides, even if you do encounter a dish that's too much for you, it makes for a great story later. You can tell your friends how you accidentally ordered scorpions, or how whatever you ordered was still moving. Better yet, you can show how brave you are when you tell them what it tasted like.
You Connect With People
Food is something everybody loves, and that makes it a great way to connect with people anywhere in the world. Whether you're downing a deep-fried Twinkie at a US state fair, or savouring a slice of raw beef heart in a secret Tokyo restaurant, you're diving right into a culture. You suddenly have something to talk about with anyone around you, and by partaking you never have to worry about being offensive. Food truly is a universal language -- it just has different dialects.
How to Become a More Adventurous Eater
So how can you become a more adventurous eater? Try things! Give foods a chance, even if you're not sure you'll like it. Personally, I follow the Andrew Zimmern rule of "always try things twice". You never know if the dish you're eating is just a bad version of it, or if you might like it prepared in a different way. For example, the first time I tried octopus, I hated it. It was steamed and came out chewy and flavourless. Next time I had it in takoyaki, though, I loved it.
Part of the problem is we wire ourselves to thing some foods are disgusting. We look at foods and go "ew..." even though we've never given it a chance. The key is staying persistent and approaching new dishes mindfully. One study, from the University of Wisconsin, suggests that being deliberately attentive while you eat something new, and calmly observing and savouring the experience, can override your disgust response. So be brave, take things slow, and let your taste buds explore before you decide if something is tasty or not.