By Elaine Guinan.
Many people have great intentions when it comes to eating healthy, but struggle to follow through. When we think of healthy eating, we often think about someone pushing a lettuce leaf around a plate-hardly appetizing! Many studies have shown that taste frequently the number one thing we consider when choosing what food to eat. We love healthy food here at Cook For Your Life, but we know that, for some people, healthy fruits and vegetables are just not to their taste!
This might seem like you are destined for failure, but science is now showing that it may be possible to train you brain to get enjoyment from healthier nibbles.
Enjoying high sugar and high fat foods is not solely an effect of modern-day foods and advertising, but also reflects the basic biology of humans. Our bodies evolved to detect and prefer high calorie foods, as these foods were once rare, and would provide much needed energy for our ancestors. Children have an even greater preference for sweetened foods compared to adults. They also learn quickly to prefer flavors associated with high-energy content and begin to select high-fat foods along with high sugar foods early in life. Not only that, but scientists believe that humans are hardwired to dislike bitter tasting foods, as this may have helped prevent hunter gatherers from eating poisonous foods. Most vegetables would have more bitter tastes which can be the reason many kids refuse to eat them. The problem is, many of our food preferences are laid out in childhood, and this may result in kids growing up into adults who have never learned to enjoy vegetables.
One tactic which has been shown to improve intake in children is repeated exposure. Not only does it improve the amount of the food eaten, but it also increased the preference of the food-e.g. the children’s tastes actually changed to make them like the food, rather than just tolerate it.
A study on adults published in 2017 indicated that repeated exposure can increases the taste preferences of adults also. Researchers tested whether the palatability (tastiness) of pulse containing foods would increase with repeated exposure. They found a small, but scientifically significant increase in the pleasantness of foods as the weeks of the intervention went on. Whether this increase could result in a long-lasting change in diet was not measured, however the study does show that adults can increase their tolerance of a food by trying it repeatedly.
Another method shown to have a small beneficial effect children is to use ‘associative conditioning’, where pairing a disliked food with a liked food may eventually change the child’s palate, especially for bitter vegetables. One small study found that children served brussels sprouts with cream cheese were more likely to eat more of the vegetable, Though fewer than 20 percent of children in the study had liked brussels sprouts without cream cheese, 72 percent of kids who had received the brussels sprouts with cream cheese now said they liked the bitter vegetable — even without cream cheese.
Showing adults how to prepare healthy food has also been shown to have a lasting impact on health behaviors- our very own Cook For Your Life cooking classes have been proven by research to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables eaten!
It appears that we can learn to enjoy vegetables, however it takes some work. It’s worth trying a food a few times, and prepared a few different ways, before ruling it out as a food that you dislike. For example, you may dislike boiled carrots, however roasted carrots have a deliciously different taste, and may be more to your preference. Also remember that within families of vegetables, there are different tastes. Many people may find arugula to have too strong a taste, whereas spinach is also very nutritious, and has a less strong taste. Ann’s Digital Kitchen has a variety of different recipes to try out, so you can find the best method of preparation for you. Try different combinations and have fun with it-bon appetit!