A healthy diet is essential for building strong bones and living a long, independent life. However, many people are hesitant to change their eating habits. Taste is often the primary reason.
Fortunately, research has revealed that it is possible to retrain our taste buds. By reshaping our response to certain tastes, we can turn healthy foods we don’t like into delicious craveable treats.
Today, you’ll discover the science behind taste and how you can apply that knowledge to retrain your taste buds. Once you unlock the deliciousness of healthier foods, your dietary goals will become much easier to meet.
The Physical Mechanics Of Taste
Taste is a multifaceted sensation, drawing information from various sources.
On the tongue, receptors convert chemical compounds in food into neural signals. These receptors are your tastebuds. When certain compounds come into contact with your taste buds, they identify the compounds as tasting sweet, salty, bitter, sour, or savory.
About half of your taste buds can sense all five taste types to different degrees, and the other half specializes in sensing the intensity of just one of the five.
Our genetic makeup dictates which compounds our taste buds can detect. Scientists have observed how differences in certain genes shape people’s food preferences.1
However, taste buds are not the only source of taste. Olfactory nerves also send information that informs how foods taste. That's why losing your sense of smell can drastically alter the way you taste food.
Additionally, other forms of sensory information are factored into how something tastes, such as temperature, texture, and whether a food is spicy. Our brains combine all of this sensory information to generate the sensation of taste.
Our taste buds sense chemical compounds in food and send signals to our brains about whether that food is sweet, salty, bitter, sour, or savory. Our olfactory nerves deliver information about smell that is factored into our conception of taste. Additionally, physical sensations such as temperature, texture, and spice level impact our sense of taste.
Experience Also Shapes Taste
Exposure and habit also influence our sense of taste. For example, infants tend to prefer foods their mothers consumed during pregnancy. Exposure to those foods in utero helped them to develop a taste for them before they were born. This indicates a relationship between what we eat and how we experience taste.
Eating foods that are high in sugar can deaden our ability to taste sweetness. Our taste buds adjust based on exposure levels. If they experience high levels of sweetness, they respond by turning down their signaling levels. Research has even shown that the number of sweetness-sensing cells can decrease in response to overstimulation.2
The same is true of salty foods. A high-salt diet causes your taste buds to underreport the saltiness of food. Then, to achieve the experience of saltiness, even more salt is required.
Infants show a preference for foods their mothers ate while pregnant, showing that experience shapes taste. If you frequently eat high-sugar or high-salt foods, your taste buds begin under-reporting the sweetness and saltiness of your food. Then you have to add more sugar or salt to get the same level of flavor.
Manufactured Foods Have Warped Our Sense Of Taste
Processed foods are infamously packed with excessive amounts of sugar and salt. Since overeating those flavors deadens their receptors, processed and manufactured foods reduce our ability to taste saltiness and sweetness.
Consequently, to cater to this diminished sensitivity, producers of those processed foods ramp up the sugar and salt content. This creates a terrible feedback loop that drives processed foods to become even more unhealthy.
While manufactured foods get less and less healthy, whole, unprocessed foods remain the same.
This implies that even a delicious fruit or vegetable might taste bland if your taste buds have been dulled by excessive sugar and salt intake. Natural foods no longer register as flavorful due to the way a diet of processed and manufactured foods has altered your taste buds.
Processed foods notoriously contain high levels of sugar and salt. Consuming overly salty and sugary foods deadens your taste receptors. Then, even more salt and sugar are required to achieve the same level of flavor. That means that a delicious-tasting piece of produce might not taste good to someone whose taste buds have been changed by eating high-sugar, high-salt foods.
We Can Retrain Our Taste Buds
Research presented at the European Society of Cardiology revealed that participants with hypertension could modify their taste perception to enhance their appreciation for a low-sodium diet.
Over the course of the 16-week program, participants reduced their salt intake by 30% and increased their enjoyment of a low-salt diet from a rating of 4.8 to a rating of 6.5 on a 10-point scale.3
A study published in the journal Current Biology found that rats given access to water sweetened with 30% liquid sucrose for four weeks experienced reduced response to sweetness and even a reduced number of taste bud cells. However, they also found that when they removed the sucrose liquid from the rats' water, the effects reversed over the course of just four weeks.4
These studies, involving both humans and animals, demonstrate that within weeks, you can recalibrate your taste buds to savor the authentic flavor of whole foods. Try these four strategies to reset your taste buds:
- Avoid processed and manufactured foods. – Processed foods are loaded with salt, sugar, and artificial ingredients. This includes TV dinners, microwavable meals, and pre-prepared foods. By preparing meals from scratch using whole ingredients, you gain control over the sugar and salt content.
- Choose less sweet and less salty ingredients for your recipes and meals. – For example, instead of a candy bar, reach for a square of dark chocolate; use unsweetened creamer in your coffee; and swap out the white sugar in a recipe for the recommended amount of a plant-based sugar-free sweetener like stevia or monk fruit.
- Eat more produce. – Increase the amount of fresh produce in your diet. Add fresh veggies to your meals, include spinach in your morning smoothie, or instead of a snack bar, eat a piece of fruit and a handful of almonds.
- Consume more fiber. – Choose high-fiber foods, which include leafy greens, whole grains, and legumes. The extra fiber will keep you feeling satiated for longer and reduce cravings for unhealthy snacks.
Research has shown that eating overly salty or sugary foods can damage our sense of taste. However, research has also found that by removing the excess salt or sugar from your diet, you can restore your natural response to those tastes. By altering your diet to reduce salt and sugar intake, you can increase your ability to detect these flavors in food, allowing you to enjoy a healthier diet.
An Alkalizing Diet Of Whole Foods Feeds Your Bones
Lowering sugar consumption is beneficial for bone health. A consistently high sugar level disrupts the bone remodeling cycle and prevents healthy bone development.
Moreover, by adopting a diet rich in whole fruits and vegetables, you provide your body with essential nutrients to build strong bones. That change also supports the 80/20 pH-balanced diet, since fruits and veggies are alkalizing.
However, this doesn't mean you can't enjoy the other foods you love. This diet is not about denial. In fact, the 80/20 pH-balanced diet actually requires that 20 percent of each meal be acidifying foods. This can include acidifying plant foods like most beans as well as animal products that provide protein and bone-building minerals, such as eggs, fish, and organ meats.
Since reducing salt and sugar intake heightens your sensitivity to those flavors, you can develop a taste for healthy foods, making them more flavorful. When your bone-building diet is delicious, it becomes irresistible.
Reducing sugar intake supports bone health. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables reduces added sugar and salt while adding bone-building nutrients and helping to meet the 80/20 balance of alkalizing to acidifying foods. The 20 percent of each meal that is acidifying can be plant foods or animal products.
What This Means To You
You possess the power to shape your own taste preferences. With a little intentional effort, you can unlock a new world of sweetness and flavor, hidden in the whole, natural, mostly alkalizing foods in the produce aisle of your grocery store.
The Save Institute created Bone Appétite to help you turn those healthy ingredients into amazing meals. The right preparation can turn a vegetable you feel so-so about into a dish you look forward to. By turning healthy eating into delicious dining, Bone Appétite makes building stronger bones irresistible.
Take back control of your taste buds. Instead of letting the food processing industry dictate your taste, build your palate to appreciate the depth and breadth of flavor found in natural, whole foods.