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Dietitians Dish: Train your taste buds

By Iustina Iznaola
Oct. 16, 2012 at 5:16 a.m.

Iustina Iznaola

Iustina Iznaola

For most of us, eating healthy translates into eating foods that have no flavor whatsoever. Eating unprocessed, wholesome foods, such as fruits and vegetables, seems like a chore.

Across ages, people complain that they lack the flavor of the processed foods. In addition, there is the misconception that eating healthy is so much more expensive; however, this could not be farther from the truth.

Many commonly available fruits and vegetables are more affordable, more tasty and better for one's health than many processed foods.

Because we have gotten so conveniently used to consuming processed foods, we completely ignore the natural flavors found in whole foods. Typically, processed foods contain additives, such as unnecessary salt, sugar and fat, that make us crave more of those foods.

Our taste sensation has changed according to how the manufacturers design their food products.

Some foods, such as fresh produce and dairy, are naturally sweet because of ripening and fermentation processes, while others are meant to be savory but not salty. However, nowadays, even more sugar or salt is added to foods that do not need these additives in the first place.

Our taste has changed so much that now we want our foods to be sweeter and saltier. Because this means more sales for the food manufacturers, more sugar and salt is added to the processed foods.

For example, if you read low-fat on a product label, most likely salt or sugar was added to compensate for the reduced-fat content. But wouldn't it be nice to be in control of our taste decisions? We can be - by retraining our taste buds.

If we ate less of the processed and prepackaged foods, we would be amazed about the wide variety of flavors that we could perceive.

In order for an athlete to win in a competition, he needs to train his body on a regular basis. It is the same thing for our taste perception - we need to have the willingness to train our mind and taste receptors to explore new flavors found in nature that are not only good for our health but also delicious.

To achieve this, many things can be done. First, one can try to take an elimination diet approach, where, on a self-scheduled time frame, processed foods excessively high in sugar, salt, fat or calories are eliminated from the daily diet. Then, one can reintroduce new, wholesome foods one at a time.

Food scientists agree that children must be exposed to the same food eight to 10 times until it is accepted. For adults, it may take more or less times to find fresh produce appealing. However, once well accepted, many of us will find ourselves craving wholesome foods that are also beneficial for our health.

Other things that one can do is to use more herbs and spices when cooking, avoid buying processed meats and use natural whipped cream frosting on cakes without the added sugar.

The message here is not to give up favorite foods, but to eat less sweet and salty foods and to eat foods that are closest to nature as much as possible.

We need to go back to the basics if we want to feel healthier and more energetic. Cooking and eating foods that come from nature and not a laboratory are not just delicious but also good for our health.

Moreover, when our overall diet is based on nutrient-dense foods, then who says we cannot have pizza and doughnuts as a treat?

Iustina Iznaola is a UTHSCSA dietetic intern at DeTar Healthcare Systems.

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