Can You Train Your Taste Buds To Like Healthy Foods?
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Can you train your taste buds to like healthy foods?
In case you didn’t already know, I am a huge advocate for intuitive eating. An intuitive eater learns to respond to her biological hunger and satiety cues, and learns to choose foods based on how they make her body feel. It’s not a diet and no foods are “off limits” for an intuitive eater.
But I have to admit that we have a major problem in our society that can prevent us from becoming intuitive eaters: our food environment is delicious…and addictive.
The science-y term for this is called “hyperpalatable”. Basically we are surrounded by foods that are deliberately engineered to trigger the reward system in our brain through our taste buds.
Sodas, cookies, cakes, cereals, and other processed foods create a flood of “happy” neurochemicals in the brain. These chemicals are so powerful that it’s hard to stop eating these foods…even when you know you’re full…even when you know they aren’t good for you…even when they leave you feeling like crap. And we continue to go back for more because we are biologically wired for pleasure.
Eventually, the experience of eating unnaturally delicious foods – because let’s be honest, there is no food in nature that tastes like an Oreo – leads to “dead” taste buds, and creates a vicious cycle of craving and overeating junk foods.
But healthy food tastes like cardboard!
This all sounds like bad news, right? Being an intuitive eater means never putting foods or food groups off limits, and having the freedom to choose any food…but what if you only want unhealthy foods?
As I mentioned in this post, intuitive eating isn’t just about eating whatever you want. Intuitive eating helps you define the difference between brain hunger (the want for tasty dopamine-inducing foods) and body hunger (the need for nutrient-dense foods that make your body healthy). It’s about honoring your body by feeding it healthy foods that make it feel good…which sometimes means feeding your cravings.
But if your taste buds are accustomed only to hyperpalatable foods, you do have a bit of a conundrum! When a person starts eating healthier foods, it’s very common for them to tell me that it’s “boring” and “tasteless”. I get it. Carrots and broccoli can’t compete with Flaming Hot Cheetos and Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls.
Here’s the good news: You can train your taste buds to like healthy foods!
You may already have some experience with this through your kids. Have you ever noticed that it takes a child up to 15 tries to accept and like a new food? You aren’t imagining this! It literally can take that many tries for your palate to accept a new taste…and a bit longer to actually like a new food.
I have personally noted this with my husband over the past 10 years. I’m an adventurous eater. He is not. When we first began dating, his list of “will-not-eat” foods was longer than the line at an Apple store on the day of a new phone release. He wouldn’t eat hummus, Greek yogurt, tabbouleh, sushi, baba ganoush, whole grain bread, wheat pasta, macadamia nuts, brown rice, beets, sweet potatoes, squash, quinoa, pears, peaches, grass fed butter, real peanut butter…I could go on forever.
He now eats and loves most of the foods on that list…but it took 10 years!
Train your taste buds to like healthy foods
You can train your taste buds…and it doesn’t require adherence to a strict meal plan or crazy fad diet to do it. (Did I mention that I’m not a fan of diets?)
The keys are repeated exposure and patience. I recommend that clients start with healthy foods that they already like and commit to adding those to their meals every day. I don’t tell them to eliminate any foods or food groups. I simply ask them to add nutrient-dense healthy foods to whatever they already eat. So if a client loves carrots and apples, I have her add an apple to breakfast, and carrot sticks to lunch and dinner. Once she is doing this consistently, I have her begin trying a new healthy food every week.
It takes time to train your taste buds, but once you begin consuming healthy foods on a regular basis, you will develop a palate for those foods. And very soon you may even find yourself craving a salad or an apple! I promise it can happen!
Blog Author: Kelly Bailey, IIN certified holistic nutrition coach, and NPTI certified personal trainer
Learn more about the author here.