Conquer “Ick” in Healthy Eating

Even if you can’t stomach healthy foods, you can still eat healthfully.

It is not just kids who crinkle up their noses when seated before a plate of those greens; it is amazing how many grownups do too. The choices you make in your daily meals are determined by what you know and the cravings of your taste buds. The effect any particular food has on your senses has a big effect on your level of satisfaction after eating as well. Researchers are learning interesting things about our sense of taste, appetite, and eating patterns, revealing how and why you eat the way you do. Knowing this can actually help you overcome the “ick” factor that stops you from eating the foods you know are good for you.

The Palatable Facts: Taste Buds

Besides pangs of hunger, there are tiny papillae lining your tongue that determine what and how much you eat. If you are a supertaster – someone with an acute sense of taste – you have more than 35 papillae. Inside each of them are 30 to 100 taste receptors, or taste buds, which respond to contact with food and send a signal to the brain. That’s where you taste sweet, salty, bitter or sour.

The stronger you sense the taste, the more averse you can be to strong-tasting foods, particularly bitter foods. Being a supertaster has its pros – you eat less fatty, sugary and salty foods, but the cons include your dislike of the bitterness in certain foods such as kale or broccoli, or even alcohol and dark chocolate. You prefer bland foods in general. Ironically, you serve the food industry well. Being sensitive to taste makes you a fine wine-taster, or a food-taster. About 25% of the population is believed to belong to this group of tasters.

healthy foods and taste budsIf, however, you have between 15 and 35 taste buds, you are an average taster, which is about half the general population. You can taste differences, but may not have strong preferences. The last category is that of non-tasters. You have fewer than 15 taste buds and find it easy to overeat in order to feel satiated. On the plus side, you can train yourself to eat healthier because you don’t “taste” foods intensely and are not averse to flavors.

Making Mindful Choices

Now that you know how taste buds work, you can learn to be mindful when you eat to gain effective control over your diet. Eating right is not as difficult as you think once you identify what satisfies you and why. For instance, roasting veggies such as peppers may make them more acceptable to your palate. If you lean towards sweet foods, pick vegetables that are naturally a little sweet, like red peppers and carrots. If you like salty, you may like celery. Cooking techniques and a wider variety of choices can make a big difference in the flavor of foods, so start experimenting.

Patience is Your Friend

Success takes conscious effort and time. Be kind to yourself and work on small goals every day. Maybe you can start by dropping soda from your diet, or at least reducing the quantity. If you crave sweetness, replace one sugary dessert a day with a few bites into luscious oranges, apples, or sweet berries. Believe it or not, you will be training yourself to master your taste buds instead of letting them master you.