Have you ever found yourself loving a food that you have once detested, or vice versa?
Our taste buds play an important role in our dieting success. Dieters often fall off the wagon when sabotaged by their taste buds. Yet people who love fresh salads tend to breeze through health changes. The good news is, contrary to popular belief, our taste preferences can be changed and we can learn to like new foods throughout our whole lives.
Most humans naturally choose a variety of food, but inevitably gravitate towards energy-dense foods with high levels of fat or sugar. The reason for this is that our brains are constantly trying to keep us alive and safe. Our unconscious brain does not understand that we have access to an unlimited supply of food, and therefore sends signals to our taste buds to seek out foods with the most energy per bite (read, fat and sugar). However, when circumstances (or food sources) change, so will our taste buds. With a bit of training, we can change the kind of foods we enjoy, and expand our range of healthy options.
Now, it’s unlikely that we can un-train ourselves to love chocolate cake or pizza. But we do have control over the intensity of sweetness or saltiness that is palatable to us. We can learn to prefer lighter, fresher foods over heavy meals. We can bring new flavours on board. It is quite common for people to notice changes in their taste preferences when changing their diet quality. Cakes become too sweet, sausages are too salty, takeaway is too greasy. The following tips will help you to allow your palate to love foods that your body also loves!
Tips to shift the taste palate
- Start slow. If you are trying to give up sugar in coffee, start by decreasing it by half a teaspoon. For reducing salt, taste the meal first and then add salt pinch by pinch until you like it.
- Add new flavours– like herbs, spices, fruits etc. This will liven up your meals, and replace the need for extra salt or fat. If you are trying to stop having butter on toast, try replacing it with another spread (margarine, nut butter, low fat cream cheese, avocado) as you decrease the amount.
- Try not to switch between flavours. When we switch between a sweet drink and a salty savory food, our tastebuds do not adapt as they should. As we switch between the two flavours, our taste buds ‘reset’, and we become accustomed to a higher quantity and intensity of salt and sugar.
- Get creative! Enjoy a wide variety of foods, prepared in different ways. If we eat the same thing every day, we experience ‘taste fatigue’, where we get sick of a commonly consumed foods. This is a major reason why fad diets don’t work. If you are learning to like vegetables, try adding a yummy sauce, seasoning or adding them to foods you already love.
- Repeated exposure: It takes a child 20 tastes before they like a new food. As independent adults, we rarely keep eating the same food if we do not like it. However, we need to parent ourselves in certain situations. We sometimes have to make ourselves to get out of bed early, to go to the dentist, exercise, and, yes, to keep eating healthy foods that we may not love. So, start by having a little bite here or there, look up some yummy recipes, mix it in to salads or soup, and gradually increase your exposure.
- Eat mindfully. When we focus fully on the sensations and experience of eating, we become much more aware of the flavours and nuances of a food. Our brains register a richer experience without overloading the taste buds. We get used to a smaller amount of our favourite foods and create the expectation of smaller portions in the future.
What we do today predicts what we will do tomorrow. If we consume something sweet, it reinforces the habit and makes it harder to resist something sweet in the future. Changing our taste palate takes time and patience, but it’s one of the best ways of seeing positive outcomes in your health journey.