Vegetables are awesome! …Health-wise anyways.
- They are packed full of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fibre, and phytonutrients that your body uses to function well.
- They are voluminous, filling you up and keeping you fuller for longer while containing minimal calories. That’s win-win right there!
- They are full of good fibre that feeds our good intestinal bacteria and improves our gut health.
- They can provide a huge amount of variety to meals, making healthy eating more interesting and enjoyable.
But, they aren’t always awesome taste-wise, right?
For some people (like me), veggies are delicious, but for others (like the old me and most other people it seems) they don’t taste great at all!
I never used to eat like this though.
I used to eat like a toddler. The more bland, simple, refined the food the better.
Precision Nutrition have just published a fantastic article + Infographic titled What to do when you don’t like vegetables, and I would like to share some of their key insights with you.
(P.S. Elan, Meg, and myself are all Certified Precision Nutrition Coaches as we are huge fans of their approach to nutrition and health in general.)
3 Reasons you might not like vegetables:
First, know that flavour is complicated and taste is very personal.
- There are 4 main flavours: Salty, sweet, sour, and bitter.
- There are also 4 lesser known / newer flavours: Fattiness, spicy, umami, and kokumi.
Out of these 8 flavours, bitterness is the predominant problem when it comes to disliking vegetables.
Bitterness typically comes from chemical compounds called alkaloids, which are used by plants, fungi, and bacteria to defend themselves from things like parasites, pathogens, and animals that might want to eat them. In extreme cases, bitterness strongly correlates with poisonous or at least potent effects of consumption, so we have evolved to quickly detect (and spit out if need be) their bitterness.
If you think about vegetables from this angle, it makes perfect sense to be at least somewhat wary of bitter tasting foods. It also explains why our taste preferences tend to develop over time, from very mild, bland, and intolerant as babies to more bold and adventurous as adults as we gain a better understanding of what will and won’t kill us.
Reason 1: The flavours you were exposed to in the womb:
Basic flavour preferences are passed on before birth.
This means that what your mother ate before and during pregnancy can have an impact on your taste preferences.
This is why a 6-year-old in Thailand can easily tolerate the ultra hot dishes that I absolutely cannot eat even as a grown man.
Likewise for the veggies.
Reason 2: Your genetic makeup:
Much of our tasting response comes from a substance in foods called 6-n-Propylthiouracil (or PROP for short).
Some people find this substance overwhelmingly bitter, while others literally cannot taste it at all.
The stronger your genetic ability to taste PROP in foods, the less tolerate you tend to be towards bitter or stronger tasting foods in general (including salty, sweet, sour, fatty, spicy, umami, and kokumi).
If you like things such as hoppy beer, grapefruit juice, kale, tonic water, espresso, and olives then you are probably on the lower end of PROP tasters. Likewise, if the thought of those foods and drinks make you shudder then you are likely on the higher end of PROP tasters.
Reason 3: What you have learned and practiced:
Before you throw your hands up in dispair or gleefully scratch veggies off your shopping list without any guilt whatsoever…
Of these three factors, what you have learned and practiced is probably the most important.
This is about conditioning and familiarity. Our palates can get used to flavors when we taste them over and over again.
Case in point: Most people don’t like the taste of coffee or beer the first time they taste it, but can quickly grow to absolutely love the taste – the enjoyable high or buzz we get from them helping to speed up the process. Likewise, with eating less sweet foods and more bitter (or at least seemingly bitter) tasting foods, we can make those tastes less or more familiar and condition our taste buds.
3 Steps to enjoy your veggies more:
The overarching takeaway (as with most things when it comes to health and fitness) is that you have a certain “natural” predisposition, but you can have a dramatic influence on that through “nurture” (i.e. your practice and exposure).
I used to have a very immature palate and be just about allergic to exercise. Through practice and exposure, I’ve come to really enjoy healthier tasting foods and relish physical activity. You can too.
Your taste preferences are not set in stone, if you hate bitter flavours (like veggies) you can change that… if you want.
Whether you’ve never eaten a green thing ever, or just want some new ways to eat veggies, Precision Nutrition has a simple formula plus a handy infographic that you can use to make bitterness less intense, more palatable, and much more enjoyable:
Step 1: Challenge.
Simply challenge yourself to eat a bitter food. Something that you wouldn’t normally eat or enjoy.
Just suck it up and eat. Beast mode!
Research suggests that we may need to try new foods many times before we’ll tolerate or like them. So, challenge yourself regularly. You might be surprised about what happens.
Step 2: Complement.
Tell that veggie how sexy it looks.
No, wait, complement, not compliment!
A key to making food taste good is to pair it with other flavours that create a sort of “flavour harmony”.
Generally, spicy, sour, or salty flavours make bitterness more palatable.
Examples include pepper, garlic, cumin, lemon juice, vinegar, wine, salt, mustard, cheese, etc.
Step 3: Cushion.
Pairing bitterness with certain flavors can soften bitterness dramatically.
On your tongue, you have a variety of receptors that send information to your brain about what you are tasting.
However, you can usually only send a certain number of signals at a time.
Sweet and fatty flavours in particular really overwhelm and interfere with those bitterness signals, cushioning the harshness.
Examples include honey, syrup, berries, nuts, oils, etc.
P.S. You may be shuddering in horror at all those sugary or calorie-dense foods, but you only need a tiny bit, not a cup.
Source: Precision Nutrition.
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