Do you know people who say they hate…absolutely abhor all vegetables, especially the green ones? You know, the picky eaters, the ones who prefer the same old same old every meal.
Maybe you might even appreciate ways to introduce new, healthier foods into your diet. Granted, we all have certain textures and flavors that we will likely never grow fond of, but as everyone knows, the more variety, the better nutrients which create a healthier body!
But for some people, old habits die hard and green only looks good on money, not in smoothies or veggies.
It’s never too late to retrain your taste buds to lust after nutrient-dense fare—even those veggies you swear you can’t stand.
- Taper Off the Trash
Frequent consumption of sugary, fatty, or salty foods both hooks and dulls your taste buds; eventually, you’ll need to eat even more to create the same level of satisfaction. Luckily, the opposite is also true: The less of a food you eat, the less of it you need to create satisfaction, says David Katz, M.D., a nutrition expert at the Yale School of Medicine and author of Disease Proof: The Remarkable Truth About What Makes Us Well. The key is cutting down in baby steps. If, for example, you typically have healthy corn chips to eat your hummus, try eating less of them and add cut vegetables with your hummus. Or, if you tend to eat more cooked food than raw, try eating the raw first and using a smaller plate with less cooked food on it. Within a month, you’ll notice that smaller amounts of your guilty pleasures are enough to hit the spot—leaving your palate more receptive to new flavors.
- Try, Then Try Again
Even if you didn’t grow up loving legumes, there’s still hope. Studies show that kids who keep trying just a single bite of a health food they dislike (think: Brussels sprouts) will eventually lose that aversion. “Such training works the same way with adults, and often faster,” says Brian Wansink, Ph.D., a professor of marketing at Cornell University and author of Slim By Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life. After sampling something three to five times, you’ll start to think, “This isn’t so weird or awful.” says Wansink. “Before you know it, you’ll actually enjoy the flavor.” Also, taste buds typically become less sensitive with age, which allows you to enjoy foods that once tasted too strong or bitter. Research from the Monell Chemical Senses Center found that when people consumed a bittersweet beverage once each day for a week, they wound up liking it 68 percent more than they did initially.
- Mix Old with New
Still having trouble downing bitter greens, or feeling kind of meh about root veggies? Pair them with a sprinkling of something you do like. Stir-fry bok choy in a bit of coconut liquid aminos sauce, for instance, or blend 1/3 brown rice and 2/3 white rice; over time, you can adjust the ratio until you eat 100 percent brown rice.
What you’re doing is masking their flavor, but after several exposures, your brain forms a positive association with both tastes,” says Alan Hirsch, M.D., neurological director of Chicago’s Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation. “You’ll soon find you like the new food on its own.” Just remember, cultivating a taste for certain foods may require repeated exposure.
- Don’t Follow Your Nose
It may not be the flavor of, say, cauliflower or broccoli that you object to, but the smell. “Green peppers, for example, have a bitter taste but a rather sweet scent, so most people find them agreeable to eat,” explains Hirsch. To make odoriferous vegetables more palatable, boil or steam them to remove sulfurous (stinky) compounds. Then serve them in a different room. Note: Your sense of smell is at its weakest in the evening. So, if we’ve inspired you to play around with your food choices, know that nighttime’s the right time to start getting adventurous.
- Keep Up Appearances
Pretty plating can also put you in the mood: In a recent study, diners rated an artfully arranged salad as 18 percent more tasty than less attractive salads containing the exact same ingredients. While you’re at it, place greens on the right side of your dinner plate. “Americans typically tackle that side first,” says Wansink. “Putting vegetables or nutritious food there means you’ll eat it faster.”
- Adjust the Volume
Though experts aren’t quite sure why, the soundtrack to your meals can influence your fickle tongue. Loud noise (e.g., techno) tends to make food taste less flavorful, according to a study in Food Quality and Preference, while music that could be described as more pleasant (like piano-based tunes) seems to enhance flavors. It could be that your brain is so intent on processing jarring sounds that it under-perceives tastes—a reaction you can use to your advantage. Play mellow tracks (or whatever takes you to your sonic happy place) to keep yourself eating the healthy food you already enjoy; increase the ivories when introducing bitters such as okra or collards into your diet.
- Educate Yourself
David Katz, MD, author of the book Disease-Proof says it’s important to give yourself reasons to like foods with flavors you don’t naturally love. If you learn about, say, why kale is so good for you—it’s loaded with fiber, vitamins A, C, and K, calcium, iron, and other plant compounds—you’ll be more motivated to try and like it.
- Turn off a Craving
When your sweet tooth starts demanding sugar, Katz recommends tamping it down by eating a food with a contrasting flavor, like half a grapefruit or a sour or bitter orange. Or switch to a palate-cleansing flavor, like mint.
- Limit Flavors in a Single Meal
Having too many choices at one time can stimulate your appetite and cause you to overeat. It’s called sensory-specific satiety—the tendency to get full and lose interest in, say, a delicious salad, but continue eating the cooked veggies. When you limit the variety in a meal, you’re more likely to feel satisfied sooner. Stick to raw salad first and simple cooked veggies later.
Share this with a loved one who has struggled adding more healthy foods to their diet. Or, consider adding one of these ideas each week and see if you can enhance your own mealtime. Let us know how it goes.