Not long ago, I was talking with a friend. He's interested in longevity, and had recently made a commitment to a new diet. He said, "You know, I don't care at all if food tastes good. I just want it to be healthy."
Now, I'm all for healthy eating. Still, my first thought was, "How sad." Not to care at all whether or not you get any enjoyment from one of your everyday activities? How can one place absolutely no value on pleasure? Then I thought a little more, and I realized that implicit in his statement was the assumption that whether or not food tastes good is irrelevant to its healthfulness. The more I considered this, the more I wondered whether it was true. I started doing some research.
The short answer is this: Pleasure is definitely good for us. Enjoyment causes the release of a variety of substances that have health-promoting properties. It's not the case that healthy food is all about nutrient balances, and tasting good is just a nice bonus. Tasting good is part of what makes food healthy.
I've just come back from Sardinia, a beautiful Italian island in the Mediterranean that has one of the highest percentages of centenarians – people over 100 – in the world. (A chent'annos is a common Sardinian toast, meaning "to 100 years!") I can confirm that this long-lived population most definitely values pleasure. Deliciousness is not optional for them; they prioritize it, and invest time into making sure that their food tastes good. Then they spend time – lots of it – enjoying that delicious food along with their families and friends.
Let's be clear here: I'm not telling you to eat nothing but chocolate cake all the time. I'm saying that the pleasure you get from eating food is part that food's health-promoting properties. It's worth spending some effort on creating a meal that you'll enjoy. Choking down a bland vegetable you don't even like will do a lot less for your health than savoring one that you like, cooked in whatever way you most enjoy.
Besides, if we don't enjoy our lives, then what would be the point of living to 100, anyway?