Intellectually, you know that you should be noshing on more leafy greens and much less refined sugar. And you’ve read scads of “tips” on how to learn to like water better than your favorite sugar-laden soda or Starbucks creation.
But if you’re still struggling to change your habits, here’s why…
The typical American diet of highly processed, salty, fatty and sweet foods has taken over your taste buds, making it hard to stick to your best intentions.
I recently came across some research that indicates what we all suspected — sugar and fat can be addictive. But it’s more addictive than I imagined.
Here’s how bad it is: One brain imaging study1 using PET scans showed that foods high in these ingredients actually function like heroin, opium, or morphine in your brain.
Many years ago, I was the first to call sugar “the cocaine of foods.”
I was more right than I knew.
It’s no wonder it’s next to impossible to eat just one salty, greasy potato chip or to be satisfied with a single cookie. You see, these foods trigger a hard-to-kick addictive cycle in your brain.
According to David Kessler, MD, author of The End of Overeating, “hyper-palatable” foods can lead to a neurochemical addiction. What he means is that your dietary shortcomings aren’t solely due to lack of willpower, but also to the fact that you are chemically dependent on unhealthy foods.
New Hope For Overcoming Food Addictions
But don’t throw in the towel just yet. David Katz, MD, author of the book Disease-Proof: The Remarkable Truth About What Makes Us Well, says there’s hope. He believes people can train themselves to enjoy healthy, natural flavors, which in turn makes kicking the junk food habit much easier.
To that end, I found several proven ways to retrain your palate … and they aren’t nearly as challenging as you might think!
If you constantly eat sugary, fatty or salty foods then you become hooked like any type of addiction. The habit dulls your legion of 10,000 taste buds, so to enjoy the same satisfaction you have to up your consumption of these foods. It takes more and more to get the same “kick.”
Fortunately, the opposite is also true. The trick, Dr. Katz says, is to avoid going cold turkey.
For instance, if you are accustomed to drinking three sugary sodas a day, try drinking only two daily for a week, then go to one daily for the next week, and so on. Within a month, most folks notice that they’re satisfied with a smaller “dose” of their guilty pleasure.
And, before you know it, you’ll completely nix the soda and opt for a luscious piece of fruit instead. Dr. Katz says your palette will become more receptive to new, healthier flavors.
Mix Old Favorites With New
For many years I struggled with certain bitter vegetables even though I knew they were good for my health. Luckily, a good friend of mine introduced me to a few veggie culinary tweaks that really helped.
For instance, dust roasted turnips with a bit of parmesan or toss some walnuts and blue cheese in with your spinach salad.
There’s a reason that this works, says Alan Hirsch, MD, of Chicago’s Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation.2
“Initially, what you’re doing is masking their flavor, but after several exposures, your brain forms a positive association to both tastes,” he says. “You’ll soon find you like the new food on its own.”
Give Those Healthy Foods You Don’t Like a Second Chance
Did you know that taste buds become less sensitive with age? This may be a rare piece of good news about aging because it could open the door to foods – like dark leafy greens – that you once thought were too bitter or strong as a kid.
And don’t give up on your first “re-try.” Experts say cultivating a taste for certain foods may require a few tries. Researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center3 found that people who drank a bittersweet beverage once a day for a week ended up liking it 68 percent more than they did at first.
Another study published in the journal Chemical Senses4 explored the topic further with trained rats that consumed different-tasting solutions. Researchers discovered that repeated exposure to bitter tastes can change proteins in one’s saliva, in turn calming the sensation that the taste is bad.
Lead researcher Ann-Marie Torregrossa, PhD, discussed the ramifications of the study.
“If we can convince people to try broccoli, greens, and bitter foods, they should know that with repeated exposure, they’ll taste better once they regulate these proteins,” Dr. Torregrossa explained.
Rats are different than humans, but I still think there’s some value in repeated tries on foods we always viewed as “yucky” at our childhood dinner tables.
I won’t lie, I enjoy a sweet treat or a serving of fries once in a while. But I try to practice mindful eating. And because I don’t indulge daily, my taste buds don’t become dulled. The result? Well, believe it or not, I sometimes find that I’m totally satisfied with a small helping.
Remember the twentieth bite is seldom as tasty as the first!