Monday, December 3, 2012

Don't Like "Healthy Food"? Yes, You CAN Change Your Taste Buds

You hear it every single day, in some form or another; "Eat healthier foods. They are good for you".  Yeah yeah. Clearly everyone knows that foods like fruits and vegetables are good for us, and foods like cake and ice cream, and wings and burgers aren't so good for us, yet we continue to eat these foods in excess (and we continue to eat too little fruits and vegetables).  What's the deal? Why wouldn't we all take the advice of health professionals everywhere, and eat healthier foods more often?  Why wouldn't we eat unhealthy foods less often?  Why why why?  I'll tell you why.  We just don't like the taste of healthier foods as much as we like the addicting combination of flavor found in the fat, salt, and sugar loaded foods that we buy in restaurants and we secretly stock up on in grocery stores.

Source: iStock Photo
We may see oatmeal for sale, but instead we tend to go for the sugar-loaded donut to start off our day (or something else, like sugary cereal or toaster pastries)

David Katz, the director of the Yale Prevention Research Center, wrote a great article about how companies keep increasing the sugar and salt in the foods they are selling.  They aren't doing this because they are evil, but they are doing it because we are buying the food!  We've become so accustomed to a certain amount of sugar, fat, and salt in our foods, that once we detect even a bit less, all of a sudden it's just not good, and we stop buying it.  Our taste buds have been highjacked and now we only seem to enjoy the foods that are loaded with excess of just about everything that we don't really need.

Here is a section of Katz's article;

Part of what the industry has done is to propagate an arms race -- with your taste buds. Human taste buds are predisposed to like sweet -- so putting sugar in food is apt to make people like it. Now imagine, though, that your competitor's product is outselling yours because it has just a bit more sugar -- what are you to do? Increase your own sugar content.
See where this can lead? More sugar means sweeter; sweeter means tastier; tastier means more sales. As manufacturers compete in this area, taste buds start acclimating to more, and more, and more sugar. The more they get, they more they want. And so we wind up with ever more sugar in our food partly because... We're asking for it! 

Source: iStock Photo
Let's face it, we are put in these situations every single day. We have to make a choice, every single day. How often do you choose the apple?

More from Katz's article;

If your taste buds have acclimated to high levels of both (sugar and salt), you will simply prefer more highly processed foods, and reject the simple, unadulterated flavors of simple foods close to nature. You will NOT eat "food, not too much, mostly plants," because you won't like doing that! And you, and perhaps your family, will miss out on the enormous health benefits associated with doing so, which is a terrible shame -- because healthy people have more fun.

So what am I getting at here? Why did I make this a "Motivational Monday" post?  Because, I want to motivate YOU to stop making excuses for why you aren't eating healthy.  I'm sick of people telling me "but I prefer the taste of a donut in the morning", or "I can't eat my pizza without first adding salt to it!", or "I can't eat pancakes without at least 3 servings of maple syrup".   

Let's continue with more from Katz's article.....

But this is all fixable. Taste buds can be rehabilitated. They are, in fact, very malleable little fellas: When they can't be with a food they love, they can quite readily learn to love the food they're with. Particularly if the food they're now with is familiar overall, but just a bit better for you. I maintain: We can love foods that loves us back.

YES!  And do you know what?  I am PROOF of this statement.  I am PROOF that taste buds can be modified.  I kid you not, I used to be a sugar-aholic.  You know what else? I used to add salt to everything.  No joke. Everything.  Once I stopped eating as much sugar, and enjoying things with less sugar, I slowly became accustomed to eating foods with less sugar.  Once I stopped adding salt to everything, and enjoying things with less salt, I slowly became accustomed to eating foods with less salt.  And yes, by "slowly" I do mean slowly. This did not happen overnight, but it happened.  And now I can actually say that I can tell when something is "too salty" or " too sweet".  Never in a million years did I think I would ever say that (and, I do use calorie-free sweeteners and no they have not made my taste buds accustomed to a sweeter taste, as some people think.)

Now, get motivated, and start changing your taste buds.  It's never too late.  And while you're at it, start your kids on the right path too.  Offer them fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and allow them to see you eat them too.  It does make a different.

QUESTION:  Have you changed your taste buds at any point in your life?  Did you know you could actually start to crave healthier foods, if you ate them more, and the "not so good foods" less?

Quick story..... after our wedding a couple months ago, I came home and the thought of fruits and vegetables sort of made me lose my appetite.  I had eaten so poorly on our vacation that I didn't even crave vegetables anymore (let alone want them at all!).  I slowly started forcing myself to eat them again, and within a week my vegetable cravings were back, and my sugar and salt cravings were gone. Seriously.  It's true!  Do I still like salty and sweet foods? Absolutely.  But now that I eat them less, and the "better for me foods" more, I find myself drawn to those healthier foods more often.

Instagramin' it (The Candid RD) After our wedding I made sure to make large bowl of vegetables, such as the one in this photo.  I topped them with hot sauce and parmesan cheese, of course, but this is how I like my veggies sometimes.  Better than none at all, right?!

Thanks for reading!

The Candid Rd
NOTE: I love comments!  But, be sure to come back to read any replies to questions or comments, as they do not go directly to your e-mail.


  1. Great motivation! I do find even in cooking, I start to add more and more salt as we get used to certain flavors but have been trying to be really aware of it.

  2. I think something else that helps a lot is to remember there is such a wide range of good food so if something in particular doesn't appeal to you it's ok to keep experimenting to find one that does (just like with different forms of exercise). For example, I am usually a big salad fan, but lately the thought of one just hasn't appealed to me. Instead of not eating any veggies though I've been doing roasted veggies and such with dinner which have tasted great. So I'm not forcing myself to eat something I don't enjoy and I'm still getting my veggies in, it just took changing things up a bit for the time being to keep things a win-win.

    1. Absolutely. I couldn't agree with you more. When people tell me they "try to enjoy broccoli"....for example, I say, why broccoli? If you don't like it, don't eat it! Then I inevitably find some veggies they actually DO enjoy!

  3. My taste buds have absolutely changed over the past couple of years, as I have modified my way of eating. If I stray (for example, during the holidays when there are a lot of sweet temptations) it takes me a couple of days to stop craving sugar. But I do, and I now find most fast foods far too salty to be appetizing.

    1. Yep, isn't it great how that works?! Same for me, after the holidays I lose my love for veggies, but it always comes back after I eat them a couple times :)

  4. Now this is a topic I LOVE! Most people I talk to don't believe taste buds can be retrained ("but I've always had a sweet tooth!), so I also try to use myself as an example. It's when we get the extra sugar and salt out of fruit and veggies that we can really taste their flavor, instead of covering them up. Part of the difficulty is that some don't want to take the time to retrain their taste buds, citing busy schedules. It's true that changes like this take time. So rather than take an all or nothing approach, how about retraining slowly?

    I also love Parm on my broccoli :)

  5. Great post Gina, and so true! I used to have quite the sweet tooth, but now, just a tiny bit of "sweet" satisfies my cravings, and whenever I bake, I use less sugar than the recipe calls for and I don't miss it at all! As for salt, I use it sparingly, so whenever I eat processed or restaurant food, I go in to serious salt overload. I completely agree, that we can train tastebuds to like healthier foods!

  6. I definitely agree with this. My mom got me started with good, low salt food when I was younger. In college I definitely ruined all of this and started to love all the crap served at the dining hall. I've gone back to my old ways now though :) Thank goodness!

  7. I totally agree that you can change your taste buds. I also think that motivation and strong will have a lot to do with it! Whenever I am craving chocolate (or sugar, my weak spots), I eat something healthy (like almonds or an apple) to satisfy my "sweet tooth."

  8. Proof that taste buds can be changed is my husband! He eats COMPLETELY different than when we met! And he often comments how he could never eat what he used to eat now. He also often comments how he would have never eaten what he eats now in the past...

    I also like your point that a relatively short period can affect our taste buds either way.

    Great reminders!