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Is it time to change your taste buds?

Apart from the odd blue cheese and crackers moment and a delicious piece of my Mum’s Christmas cake over the festive season, what I eat day in and day out is really healthy food that nourishes me from the inside out.

Like most people though, I have grown up with a weak spot for sweet things. It has never been cakes or biscuits but given the choice if I didn’t have my nutritionist hat on, I used to opt for a flavoured yoghurt over plain, I would definitely go for jam over Marmite (unless the Marmite was with avocado, of course – how good is that combo?!) and I would have a drizzle of maple syrup wherever possible!

Anyway, even though my diet is very good (without being some kind of obsessive freak, which is not healthy in my view), over the last year or so I have been on a mini mission myself to move away from sweetened foods as much as possible – with fruit and the odd squeeze of honey being the exception. I have just really made an effort to remove added sugars and artificially sweetened foods – purely with the goal of changing my taste buds and breaking the lifelong cycle.

There were lots of things I was already doing – I have made my own muesli for years, the only sweetness in that is a small amount of dried fruit. I make virtually all of my meals and snacks from scratch (I can’t stand how sweet and artificial some cooking sauces are) and I have been getting into green smoothies and juices too.

A few other changes I made were things like moving to low-fat unsweetened yoghurt (and resisting the urge to smother it in honey), trading diet drinks for soda water, sparkling water or spicy tomato juice and really overall making an effort to clean up my palate. It was hard at first and things tasted really tart – but in a few weeks, I got used to it and didn’t even notice!

Wake-up call

After a while this has just become normal and I haven’t really thought about it much – until recently when I had a wake-up call! I was staying at a hotel for work and as I arrived late someone else had ordered dinner for me and got me a diet drink to go with it instead of my now normal sparkling water. It was so weird, it tasted foul – I couldn’t even drink it! I never thought that would happen.

Over the last few weeks I have tried a few other drinks that I used to have, as well as sweetened fruit yoghurt and some slightly sweet muesli (it was still a healthy one, but was on the sweeter side) – again, it was just awful. It just didn’t taste like it used to.

I have realised that as the months have gone by, my taste preferences have changed so much that now I wouldn’t go near some of the foods I used to enjoy – I am an unsweetened girl all the way.

You learn what you like

We have ‘learnt’ what we like. We have developed a certain taste for salt, sugar and fat over the years. I was reminded of this last week when I was at a friend’s place. When I walked in to her house, I saw her 18-month-old son sucking on a lemon. A lemon?! I asked her about it (she is a paediatric dietitian too, which is handy when you are looking for a credible answer) and she said: “Foods don’t taste the same to kids as they do to us – they haven’t learnt our bad habits!” It is so true, there is a reason why you shouldn’t add sugar or salt to your kids’ foods (other than the fact that their kidneys can’t handle it) and that is because they don’t need it. When they have sweet and salty food, that becomes normal for them – it is what they LEARN to find acceptable.

Much of what you taste is what you are used to – you can retrain yourself. If you get your taste buds on your side it can help making nutrition-packed choices a lot easier because you will be naturally drawn to better food options.

My challenge for you

I would LOVE you to tidy up your taste preferences because indirectly, it can help you get healthier as well as look and feel better!

For the next month, set yourself the challenge of really cutting back on adding sugar to your food or opting for the sweet option rather than the unsweetened. Get into water, green juice or tomato juice rather than any sweetened drinks – diet or otherwise – and see how things change!

If you are a salt fan, add less or none to your food (and that includes soy sauce and other salty cooking sauces) – your food will taste bland and dull for a week or two, but you will be shocked how the taste will come back and food will taste better than ever, especially if you add more herbs, spices and other flavours instead.

Let me know how you get on – I can’t wait to hear! Good luck.

Taste bud facts

  • It is suggested you can have anywhere from 2000 to about 10,000 taste buds.
  • The average life of a taste bud is about two weeks.
  • Smoking, having a cold, some medications, certain nutritional deficiencies and pregnancy can affect your taste.

Love, Claire x

Claire Turnbull, BSc (Hons) Dietetics UK, NZ-registered nutritionist. Managing director of Mission Nutrition, and Healthy Food Guide nutritionist.

First published: Nov 2013



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