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Retrain your cravings: Five ways to learn to love healthier foods

By Lisa Gosselin,

Having a hard time loving the new healthy foods you should be eating? It can be a challenge – particularly if you feel like you’re forcing yourself to eat certain foods.

The good news: There’s new research that suggests it’s possible to embrace good-for-you foods by learning to use all five senses.

“A food’s texture, how it sounds, how appetizing it looks, and how it smells all play a role in flavor perception,” says Barb Stuckey, author of “Taste What You’re Missing: The Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good.” Here are some ways you can use all your senses to learn to love healthier foods.

Fool your nose

It may not be the taste of Brussels sprouts, cauliflower or broccoli you hate, but the smell. Cooking cruciferous vegetables releases sulfurous compounds (the same compounds that deliver cancer-fighting benefits). Try steaming them or roasting them, which releases the smelliest compounds, and then eat them in another room from the kitchen.

When it comes to foods you love, strong complementary aromas (like a whiff of coffee in a mocha dessert, vanilla beans in sugar) help you take smaller bites, a natural response so you are not overwhelmed with flavor. Try lighting a vanilla-scented candle at dessert time.

Train your tongue

Here’s the secret to getting kids to learn to love veggies: it’s actually OK to add a tiny bit of sugar. Researchers found that after three days of eating broccoli and cauliflower dipped in a mixture of water and 20 percent sugar, people’s tastes even for the unsweetened vegetables improved.

If you already have a sweet tooth, you can use a similar strategy by cutting back on all sweet foods, especially those with artificial sweeteners. Often those artificial sugars are many times sweeter than regular sugar and stimulate the reward area of your brain, causing you to, in turn, crave even more sweets.

“If you gradually cut artificial sweeteners from your diet, you will lose your taste for them,” says Yale University’s David Katz, M.D., M.P.H.

And if it’s sodium you crave, try a splash of vinegar – which the pores in our tongue react to in the same way they do to salt. It won’t taste exactly the same, but your tongue will get a similar sensation to what it gets with salty foods.

Tweak the texture

The more texture or viscosity a food has, the more its taste will linger in your mouth. Think about how a sip of a smoothie coats your tongue long after a soda would have been guzzled down. Or how adding nuts or seeds to a salad – things that require more chewing – draws out the meal.

Put on mood music

Last but not least, even sound can impact how you perceive foods. An Oxford University study showed that when 20 men and women ate toffee while listening to a brassy soundtrack, they perceived it as more bitter than when they ate the same toffee to tinkling piano music. Be mindful of a constant, unpleasant background noise.

“You know how food often tastes bland on an airplane?” explains lead researcher Ann-Sylvie Crisinel, Ph.D. “Part of the reason is that the low-level noise of the engines has a masking effect on flavor.”

EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at



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