Most of us know by now that we should be sipping on green tea, chomping down buckets of raw kale and getting a daily cocoa hit from a handful of cacao nibs rather than a Mars bar, but what if you don’t like the taste of these foods and eating them feels more like a chore? Nutrition is just like exercise – if you don’t enjoy it the chances of you sustaining any healthy intentions on a long-term basis are unlikely. Interestingly, there are some steps you can take to train your taste buds into liking healthier foods, allowing you to actually start to enjoy them whilst reaping the health benefits they have to offer.
Come To Your Senses
Our sense of taste gives us the ability to evaluate what we eat and drink. Basically this mini assessment process is designed to encourage us to eat more calorie rich foods and avoid poisonous or toxic substance, hence our preference for sweet, fatty and salty foods and dislike for bitter foods. However, our food preferences and aversions change throughout life as many are based on individual experiences. For example, anything that you’ve ever thrown up is likely to be struck off the list! Taste, similar to smell, is triggered by chemical stimuli. We have approximately 10,000 taste buds situated on our tongue and at the back of our throat. These contain receptors that respond to:
- Umami (this enhances other tastes)
Some research has suggested children are much more sensitive to taste, particularly bitterness, as many poisonous foods in nature have a very bitter taste and they will reject them in their early years but find a tolerance for them in later life. Pregnant women also become more sensitive during pregnancy and have a tendency to reject bitter foods and crave salt and sweet tastes in line with their increased needs for sodium and glucose.
Can You Retrain Your Taste Buds?
One of the biggest problems with nutrition today is the combination of our evolutionary traits encouraging us to seek out sweet or fatty foods due to their caloric density, coupled with a food industry that knows and abuses this information and makes such food readily available, wofting the smells and sights of these temptations under our nose at every possible opportunity.
Even fruits and vegetables are being manipulated by growers to appeal more to our taste buds. Jo Robinson covers this in-depth in her book Eating on the Wild Side and details how the food industry has cross bred fruits and vegetables to yield a greater sugar content and decrease the bitter taste you find with wilder varieties due to there higher antioxidant content.
The more we consume of a taste the more we will desire it in greater amounts, so it makes sense that we start to retrain our taste buds back towards bitter and sour foods as these are often healthier. Think about it for a second; green leafy vegetables, vinegar, green tea, cocoa, fermented foods, wild berries and spices offer vitamins, minerals and lots of phytonutrients. Lots of research has been conducted investigating how we may influence our taste buds and the signals they convey to our nervous system with a view to using this data to retrain our taste buds and encourage healthy foods to evoke a pleasurable connection. The following are some simple strategies you can implement to start building a buff set of buds.
Eliminate To Lower Taste Thresholds
Possibly the toughest yet most successful approach of all involves lowering your taste threshold. We quickly develop a satisfactory threshold when it comes to taste. The more we have of a taste, the higher the threshold for satisfaction goes, meaning you need to eat more to feel satisfied. This is pretty lethal if you think you already have a sweet tooth. One thing we do on our Fat Loss Kickstarter Plan is implement a basic elimination diet, going without for a few weeks can help to reset your taste buds. Eliminating all sweet foods for a month allows your taste buds to adapt and become more sensitive to sweetness so that fruit can offer you enough sugar to satisfy your thresholds. For some people a trial period of eliminating healthy, natural sweeteners including xylitol, stevia and honey maybe helpful as these are often sweeter than sugar and can keep your satisfactory levels higher, leading you to continue to crave and overindulge in sweet foods more easily.
Cut Craving With Palate Cleansers
You can tamper down cravings for a taste by taking a palate cleansing flavour after a meal when cravings are likely to strike to encourage you to keep eating. Mint is the most obvious choice so fresh mint tea or simply sucking on a mint after a meal can help, we love Peppersmith English Peppermints. Another means of dampening down a desire for a sweet food is to eat something of the opposite flavour, sour or bitter being the obvious choices so when a craving strikes opt for a serving of grapefruit, an espresso, a bowl of sour, live yogurt, lemon tea or add some vinegar to a salad of bitter leaves.
Continue To Cultivate Healthy Taste
We easily develop something called a ‘taste bias’ if we continually consume an item of food and drink. Initially we are attracted to the taste (be it sweet, salty or sour) and then the more we consume the fonder we become of its characteristics and BOOM we are totally attached to that brand. Think about the efforts you often go to to ensure you’re stocked up with your favourite tea, coffee, chocolate, soft drink, protein shake….it’s like a marriage!
Repeatedly exposing your taste buds to a stimulus means the sense of familiarity can change your perception and you start to savour the outcome. A study at the Monell Chemical Senses Centre observed people who consumed a bittersweet drink once a day for a week eventually started to enjoy it, so commit to having a cup of green tea first thing in the morning or a kale smoothie every day for the next two weeks and slowly you will begin to persuade your taste buds to love it.
Kick Taste Buds With Knowledge
Many researchers who explore taste preferences and health have observed the more people know and understand the health benefits of a food or drink item the quicker they can develop a taste for them. It helps to give yourself a reason to enjoy it so you’re motivated to keep trying it. This was certainly the case for us, the first time we tried a mug of bone broth it was ok but over time we came to look forward to the taste and the little hug it offered after a long day at work. If our brain understands the need it is suggested it may predict the benefit and influence our taste buds to enjoy the texture and taste, making us actively seek out these nutrients more. So grab yourself some good nutrition books and start reading about the wonders of organ meats, herbs, spices and green, leafy vegetables.
Food and drink has the power to bring us pleasure and comfort by influencing the production and balance of neurotransmitters, these are brain chemicals that play an integral role in the communication of emotions and feelings. In turn these neurotransmitters will influence our taste preferences. We have a stock of foods and drinks we have come to love over time and look forward to enjoying them on a regular basis. You can partner up healthy foods you want to learn to like more with those you already love so you eventually associate them both with pleasure. Known as ‘flavour flavour’ learning, this method has been shown to be hugely effective for children. Imagine if every time you ate chips they were always served with kale (in fact that’s probably why we love mushy peas so much) you would look forward to the chips as usual and soon come to appreciate the kale.
Try having a few squares of your favourite (dark!) chocolate with a cup of green tea and you’ll soon start to look forward to the taste of the tea because it comes with chocolate 🙂 Or try topping your kale salad with a sprinkle of your favourite cheese like parmesan or feta and it will slowly transform your expectation and experience of eating that food so that you begin to relish it.
Similarly when you perceive a need, as in “I need a hot drink” or “I’m thirsty” go for the healthy option first like a green tea or water with fresh lime and you will soon associate those foods as satisfying your need and savour the taste.
Take Small Steps
Retraining your taste buds won’t happen overnight but you can move the process along gently by making small changes. If you’re still munching on Maltesers it’s unlikely you’ll enjoy the taste of 90% dark chocolate but if you gradually step up the cocoa content of your chocolate your taste buds will gently adapt and before you know it extra dark will hit the spot and you’ll be grimacing at the thought of milk chocolate, virtuously announcing to everyone that its just ‘too sweet’ for you now.
Why not try the following Dark Chocolate Programme, it involves stepping up the intensity each week by an extra 10-15% until you hit maximum capacity of 100% cocoa solids BOSH!
- Week 1 – Milk (30% cocoa solids)
- Week 2 – Darker milk (40-60% cocoa solids)
- Week 3 – Dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
- Week 4 – Extra dark chocolate (85% cocoa solids)
- Week 5 – Hardcore dark chocolate (90-100% cocoa solids)
You can apply this to many food and drink items, for example, if you drink coffee move step by step from a latte to a cappuccino, dash of cream and eventually take it black. With green tea try oolong or Sencha green tea first of all as these are lighter than some of the bitter blends, when your taste buds adapt you can brave some loose leaf, gunpowder green tea. If ditching sweeteners in your drinks halve the amount first and cut down week by week.
If All Fails Hide Em!
If you try yet simply can’t adapt your taste buds to enjoying healthier foods or drinks then simply disguise the taste by sticking them in a smoothies with a boatload of berries or blend into soups or mashed sweet potato with garlic, butter, salty chorizo and avocado all of which make everything taste amazing 🙂 Our kale, chorizo and sweet potato mash never fails to impress.
Over the last few years we’ve managed to transform our taste buds so we know this can be done. We used to love milk chocolate, lattes and proper builders brews with sweeteners. We now enjoy (and I mean genuinely enjoy) strong green tea, 90-100% dark chocolate, bitter salad leaves and our coffee has to be superstrong and bitter. We used a combination of the strategies above and just kept persevering, we promise they work!