Is it possible to train your palate to crave healthy food? Short answer: Yes. Here’s the long answer based on my personal experience:
An unexpected diet change
In the past, I didn’t really pay that much attention to what I ate. I never had significant issues about my weight, so I could pretty much eat what I wanted and get away with it (weight-wise, at least!). Back in 2005, however, our household diet changed, and it forced me to consider how I nourished my body.
You see, more than a decade ago, we decided to eliminate white rice, bread and sugar from our grocery list and replace them with their brown counterparts. Like most kinds of change, this one was very uncomfortable: brown rice in particular tasted like chicken feed to me.
What’s funny to me now is that I feel the opposite of what I felt then. We all got so used to eating brown rice and brown bread that after a while we ended up liking it. This experience led to my first nutrition ‘aha’ moment: You can train you palate to crave healthy food!
Programmed from childhood
If you don’t instinctively reach for that carrot stick, you’re not alone. Our unwillingness to eat healthy may well stem from the time we were fetuses.
According to biopsychologist Gary Beauchamp in a U.S. News article, what mothers eat flavors their amniotic fluid (the fluid which protects and nourishes an unborn baby during pregnancy), as well as their breast milk. His research, published in the journal Pediatrics, shows that infants whose mothers drank carrot juice late in their pregnancies or while breast-feeding like carrot-flavored cereal more than those who have never tasted carrots.
Kids eat what they’re given until they hit two years, the age when they start refusing to try new types of food. That’s not necessarily a bad thing since, evolutionarily speaking, that’s usually the time children begin fending for themselves. Any unfamiliar food that smells or tastes bitter or sour is suspect because it might be underripe, rotten, or poisonous.
Unfortunately, broccoli, kale, tea and even tomatoes are regularly perceived by first-time eaters to be bitter or sour, Beauchamp says. Which means that if you weren’t eating the likes of broccoli and kale at age two, then it’s unlikely that you like them now (Fetters, 2016).
Training your taste buds
Given that healthful eating isn’t instinctive for everyone, how can you start embracing nutritious food?
Here are tips from Women’s Health Magazine on how to retrain your taste buds:
Lessen your consumption of processed and sugary food, but do it in baby steps. For instance, if you take four sugars in your coffee, try adding only three for the next week or so. Over time, you’ll realize you only need a smaller amount of your guilty pleasure to satisfy your craving.
Make it a point to regularly try eating just a single bite of a nutritious food you dislike. Prepare to be surprised when you eventually lose your aversion to that food.
Pair food you don’t like with food you do like, such as adding a dash of butter to cauliflower or stir-frying bok choy in a bit of soy sauce. This will help your brain get used to the taste of the latter. You might even end up liking it on its own.
Sometimes it’s the smell of a vegetable that you reject. You can remedy this by boiling or steaming it first before serving in a different room.
Got an eye for detail? Great! Prettify your plate more often. In one study, diners rated artfully arranged salads as 18 percent more delicious compared to salads that weren’t arranged as attractively.
Another study discovered that piano-based tunes seemed to enhance flavors — in direct contrast with loud noise which elicited the opposite effect. Play tracks that make you feel good to keep yourself eating the healthy food you already enjoy (Pagan, 2014).
Changing your mindset
Here’s my personal tip: stop thinking about eating fruits and veggies as torture or as punishment for being fat. Start thinking of eating healthy fare as a really useful habit that’ll help you achieve your life goals.
This might sound like a stretch in logic but it really isn’t: if you don’t feed your body well, you won’t have the energy to go after your dreams and goals. Changing your mindset is key.
1. Fetters, K. Aleisha. (2016, March 18). Can You Really Learn to Lie Healthy Foods? Retrieved from https://health.usnews.com/wellness/articles/2016-03-18/can-you-really-learn-to-like-healthy-foods.
2. Pagan, Camille. (2014, November 26). 6 Tricks for Training Your Taste Buds to Crave Healthy Foods. Retrieved from https://www.womenshealthmag.com/weight-loss/a19890024/how-to-retrain-your-taste-buds/.