Yes, You Can Train Your Taste Buds to Like Healthy Foods

Jennifer Lovejoy, Arivale Chief Science Officer, PhD
Jennifer Lovejoy
Arivale Chief Science Officer, PhD

It’s a truth universally (or at least widely) acknowledged that sugar, fat, and salt are not only highly palatable but that their palatability increases with repeated exposure. In other words, the more sugar, fat, and salt you eat, the more you’ll crave foods full of them—a fact that the food industry is very well aware of and uses to their advantage.

Is the same true for healthy foods? Do we like them more if we eat them more? It’s long been less clear whether or not our taste buds adapt the same way to healthier foods, especially in adults (children typically learn to like new foods after repeated exposure).

However, a new study about the palatability of pulses—AKA dried beans, peas, and lentils—is making waves by showing adults can, in fact, train their taste buds to enjoy healthy foods too.

Taste Buds, Weight Loss, and Pulse Vegetables

Pulses are nutritional powerhouses, full of fiber, protein, and micronutrients. Not only are they important for a healthy diet, they can also be very helpful for weight loss since fiber and protein are so filling. In spite of their clear health benefits, pulses are not consistently consumed in the United States. In fact, less than one-third of people report eating pulses and, of those who do, only about 40 percent consume the recommended amount of half cup per day.

The researchers speculated that part of the reason for the relatively low consumption of pulses was the perceived palatability. Maybe people just don’t like them.

The weight loss study included foods prepared with pulses as well as healthy foods that didn’t contain pulses. Study participants regularly rated the taste, appearance, odor, and texture pleasantness of each food, and the researchers calculated an overall flavor pleasantness score. Participants who took part in the study were not regularly consuming pulses prior to the study.

The findings indicated that, at the beginning of the study, there was no difference in the taste and “pleasantness” ratings of foods with pulses versus those not containing pulses. Both foods were rated as “moderately pleasant,” scoring seven out of nine possible points on the scale. But, fast forward six weeks later, the people’s perception of the pleasantness of all types of healthy food significantly increased. The average increase in taste rating was about four percent.

Training Your Palate

So, just like with sugar, fat, and salt, when you eat healthy foods on a daily basis—even if you initially aren’t wild about the taste of something—you may find that your experience of the flavor changes relatively quickly.

Who knows, something that might have started out on your “meh” list could become a new favorite with time. All the more reason to try new healthy foods—and then try them again.


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