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Genius Ways to Retrain Your Taste Buds to Love Healthy Food

The authors of two popular cookbooks provide tips on how you can change and condition your taste buds to enjoy healthy foods.

Take a look at your diet and ask yourself the following questions: Do you eat a variety of foods? Do you eat foods within a range of colors, or are most of the ingredients in your everyday meals beige and brown? If you typically cycle through the same batch of recipes and neglect to incorporate different fruits and vegetables week after week, it may be time to reassess the way you crave foods. But how do you change your taste buds?

Making any transition in life can be difficult and requires patience. So, introducing a bunch of new foods into your diet all at once and expecting to enjoy them is neither sustainable nor pleasurable. If you want to revamp your diet and learn how to eat healthy, you'll have to make a conscious effort to retrain your taste buds so that you crave those foods. In fact, your genetics can influence your taste buds, which is why some people inherently have an adverse reaction to certain foods. For example, some might find kale to be way too bitter, while others claim cilantro tastes like soap. Everyone's taste buds, palates, and preferences are different—however, that doesn't mean you have to dismiss an entire food category just because you don't particularly enjoy one specific food from it.

The objective here is to reduce the cravings you have for unhealthy foods by slowly introducing healthier foods into your diet. We asked recipe developers Mareya Ibrahim, TV chef and author of Eat Like You Give a Fork: The Real Dish on Eating to Thrive, and Kevin Curry, author of Fit Men Cook, for help on how to eat healthy and actually retrain your taste buds to enjoy healthier foods.

Here are six ways you can slowly begin to retrain your taste buds so that you crave healthier foods.

Step 1: Slowly introduce more bitter, sour, and umami flavors into your diet.

Ibrahim suggests first familiarizing your palate with the tastes that are most closely associated with healthier foods. She recommends eating foods that have bitter, sour, and umami flavors, including leafy greens, mushrooms, miso, pickles, and sauerkraut. She says to take five bites of specific foods that each have one of those flavors.

For example, grab a leaf or two of kale for the bitter taste, sautée mushrooms to get a feel for umami flavors, and then end with a tablespoon or two of sauerkraut to flex those taste buds to pick up on sour flavors. Then, take five bites of each to help condition your taste buds.

"Do this for eight days to begin the tastebud transformation and build new habits," says Ibrahim.

Step 2: Cut out foods that sabotage your taste buds.

"While you're resetting, cut out foods that can sabotage your tastebuds, like sugar in all forms, including honey and agave, alcohol, bread, baked goods, flavored dairy products, soda, juice, and processed packaged foods," says Ibrahim.

Instead, get your fix of sweet from fresh or frozen fruit. For example, Ibrahim has a recipe called the "You Glow Smoothie," which includes for plain Greek yogurt, frozen blueberries, unsweetened tart cherry juice, and spinach. This way you satisfy those cravings for something sweet without the caloric added sugar.

This 7-day smoothie diet will help you shed those last few pounds.

Step 3: Go shopping strategically.

"Since you are adopting a new culinary wardrobe, I'm giving you permission to go shopping," she says. "Stock your refrigerator with fresh produce in a variety of colors, because we eat with our eyes first."

Seek out foods that provide quality fats such as nuts and salmon and high protein options that provide all nine essential amino acids, primarily found in animal-based products and quinoa.

Step 4: Instead of getting rid of your favorite recipe, give it a makeover.

Now that you have an idea of how you can introduce healthier foods into your diet, Kevin Curry has a few tips on how you can strengthen and maintain your newly activated taste buds. Let's start with the recipes you love the most. Why would you toss your favorite meals to the curb when you can just swap out some of the ingredients?

"Take foods that you already like, break down the core ingredients, then find healthier substitutions for some of the ingredients to see if you can reduce the number of calories while not completely compromising flavor," says Curry. "This is a good approach to retraining your taste buds because it builds on foods and meals you are already willing to eat, while also introducing new ingredients and cooking methods with reduced calories."

The goal? To make the recipe taste the same while providing more nutrition and fewer calories.

Step 5: Create new memories and experiences with new, healthier foods.

"Ever wondered how the mere smell of a homemade sweet potato pie, or another comfort food, can immediately make you think of a special relative, and you find yourself smiling or chuckling? It's simple—you have a good memory involving that food, and it seemingly tastes better in that context," says Curry.

Similar to how you associate the irresistibility of comfort foods with a positive memory, you can make new experiences with the healthier foods you introduce. Curry says to experiment in the kitchen and don't be afraid to fail.

"Invite a friend to try a new restaurant or food. Buy a healthy cookbook and actually cook your way through it and share your experiences," he says. "The more you make the learning process fun, the easier it is to embrace something new."

Step 6: Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Curry equates becoming acquainted with new foods to getting attuned to a new workout routine. The second workout is always kind of tough, right? The second time you have a kale salad with tahini dressing may be equally as tough to enjoy.

"But after that, you start finding your rhythm and what used to challenge you before in the gym now is just a warmup. This type of progress is only possible if you consistently work those muscle groups," says Curry. "It's the same with new foods. You have to continually try new foods to teach your brain that it does, in fact, taste good."

The best way to establish a rhythm and stick to it is to set goals for yourself. When Curry was introducing new foods into his diet, he made sure he ate two servings of different raw veggies and fruit every single day. The more he ate them, the more he began to enjoy them.

"As a weekly goal, I'd find a new food and research a recipe for it, then make it," he says. "This built my confidence in the kitchen, and my knowledge of foods, so that I can always keep it healthy and never boring."

Time to make a change to those taste buds!

Cheyenne Buckingham
Cheyenne Buckingham is the former news editor of Eat This, Not That! Read more about Cheyenne
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