In my career as a weight loss and nutrition consultant, one of the most common refrains I hear when people find out what I eat is, I could never give up meat. And I don’t really like vegetables.
I’m sad to say that the only thing that stands between them and their long-term health is a major misunderstanding about taste perception.
I want to clear up this dangerous misapprehension now, and after reading this blog post, you’ll be able to join me in a grassroots effort aimed at nation-wide taste bud rehabilitation!
Dear Reader, this is your lucky day. Henceforth, we shall dispense with the necessity to choose between the life of a culinary hedonist and that of an epicurean pauper.
Indeed, taste is learned—in other words, your food preferences are conditioned by what you eat regularly.
Research reports that you only need to eat a given food ten to fifteen times to develop a penchant for it, and over the years, I have experienced this fortuitous effect multiple times.
Midsummer a few years ago, the CSA (community supported agriculture) I subscribed to was barraging me with an overabundance of their pet nightshade, eggplant. Every week, I’d open my fresh-picked box of produce, hopeful that aubergine season was over, but it was on and on with the never-ending eggplants in varying shape and color combinations from short and deep purple to long, slender, semi-variegated and plumb-hued to striped—they even came in plain white!
Luckily, I had encountered the aforementioned research on taste preference and determined, with chagrin, to put it to the test.
So every night, I tossed minutely cubed eggplant into whatever veggie dish I had going—veggie sloppy Joes, veggie stir fry, roasted veggies. No, I didn’t soak it in salt water—too much trouble, too much sodium, and entirely (it turns out) unnecessary!
Initially I really didn’t notice much of a flavor in the eggplant—mostly the texture was novel to me—but I kept up the experiment. And lo and behold, about two weeks into this daily ordeal, I took my first mouthful of that night’s stir fry and thought, “Hmmmm. . .that’s pretty good. What is that?”
Why, it was the eggplant, of course! Finally, my taste buds had made the change over, and they were admittedly happy to have done so.
Nowadays, after several years of high-nutrient eating, there isn’t a vegetable I won’t eat.
I know what you’re thinking. You don’t believe it’s possible—your lack of enjoyment of vegetables has nothing to do with recalcitrant taste buds or any other nonsense that might apply to the common plebe. Because, after all, YOU know what you like, and it ain’t arugula!
But I Really Hate Vegetables!
Wait, let me guess: you don’t like vegetables.
Well, neither did I.
I grew up in the American South, where battered and fried fare served as both centerpiece and main dish. My grandmother fried everything from chicken to steak to okra, squash, and potatoes. A fry daddy filled with Crisco served as the principal cooking appliance in my kitchen. And if it wasn’t deep fried, the occasional raw vegetable (iceberg lettuce) was smothered in Thousand Island dressing.
Yep, that diet style took me years to overcome. It wasn’t until my early to mid 20’s—when I
started exploring the effect of diet on health—that fear for my life drove me to begin adding veggies to my bread, pasta, and milk chocolate regimen.
And, yuck! I abhorred both taste and texture of fresh vegetables and really had to work at it to even tolerate leaf lettuce and broccoli.
So if you don’t like veggies, there’s still hope. By intentionally exposing your taste buds to foods you don’t like on a daily basis, you will grow to love them just as much as you now enjoy donuts, nachos, and hamburgers. In fact, no one who knows me would deny that I love food. As I frequently point out, nobody enjoys their food more than I enjoy mine. So don’t be surprised when you find yourself hosting a dinner party featuring crudités as the main dish!
How to make vegetables taste good
Another important factor in determining whether you savor the Giant Mega Salad with gusto or choke it down in disgust is hunger. The truth is, most Americans do not experience true hunger on a daily basis.
Do you often feel mildly dizzy, head-achy, low energy, or out-of-it a couple or so hours after eating? Contrary to popular belief, those symptoms are not true hunger (and the are mostly likely NOT low blood sugar).
Those are the feelings of withdrawal. If you're subsisting on refined foods (cereal, bread, pasta, oil, etc.) and animal foods (meat, cheese, etc.), then a few hours after eating your body will (thankfully) enter the clean-up phase of metabolism, in which waste products are removed from your cells. And it turns out that refined foods and animal products produce a lot of waste, and they don't come packaged with the antioxidants and phytonutrients necessary to help clean it all up.
So then you start to feel crappy, you eat a snack, et voila--relief from dizziness and headache. That relief comes because, by eating, you put a halt to the cellular clean-up and re-enter the digestive phase of metabolism.
Was that TMI? If so, try this on for size: if the salad doesn't sound good, you're not hungry. If you wait long enough, true hunger will kick in, and veggies and beans will start to sound much more appealing.
The main points
1. Taste changes according to what you feed on regularly.
2. True hunger is the best taste aphrodisiac.
Pick a vegetable you don’t particularly like and commit to eating a little of it every day for two weeks. (Remember, you'll enjoy it much more if you're experiencing true hunger.) It’s ok to disguise it by chopping it into minute particles and tossing it in with the rest of your meal.
If you don't toss it in with your meal, eat it first, when you're hungry. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the end of this trial to have added more variety to your diet and increased the healthful options available to you. Happy eating!
WellBean (now with 100% organic, fair-trade cacao) also taste best when your taste buds have adjusted to the subtle flavors of unrefined, unsalted, unsugared, and unfried foods. Fill yourself with WellBean.:-)