How can we overcome our built-in hunger drives for salt, sugar, and fat? We now have evidence showing that if we go a few weeks cutting down on junk food and animal products, our tastes start to change. We may actually be able to taste fat--just like we taste sweet, sour, and salty--and people on low fat diets start liking low fat foods more and high fat foods less.
Our tongues appear to become more sensitive to fat if we eat less of it. And the more sensitive our tongues become, the less butter, meat, dairy, and eggs study subjects ate. We also get a blunted taste for fat if we eat too much. This diminished fat sensitivity has been linked to eating more calories; more fat; more dairy, meat, and eggs; and becoming fatter ourselves. And this change in sensation, this numbing of our ability to taste fat, can happen within just a few weeks.
In my video, Changing Our Taste Buds, you can see when researchers put people on a low-salt diet, over the ensuing weeks, study subjects like the taste of salt-free soup more and more, and the taste of salty soup less and less. Our tastes physically change. If we let them salt their own soup to taste, they add less and less the longer they're on the diet. By the end, soup tastes just as salty with half the salt. For those who've been on sodium restricted diets, regularly salted foods taste too salty and they actually prefer less salty food. That's why it's important for doctors to explain to patients that a low-salt diet will gradually become more palatable as their taste for salt diminishes. The longer we eat healthier foods, the better they taste.
That's why I've always encouraged my patients to think of healthy eating as an experiment. I ask them to give it three weeks. The hope is by then they feel so much better (not only physically, but in the knowledge that they don't have to be on medications for chronic diseases the rest of their lives after all!--see Say No to Drugs by Saying Yes to More Plants) and their taste sensitivity has been boosted such that whole foods-as-grown regain their natural deliciousness.
To see how a healthy diet can make you feel, check out the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine's 21-Day Kickstart program at http://www.21daykickstart.org/.
-Michael Greger, M.D.
Image Credit: M Glasgow / Flickr