And, is it true that your cravings can actually change to prefer healthy (REAL) food?
What exactly are taste buds?
When it comes to food, our preferences are influenced by all five of our senses - sight, smell, touch, sound and, of course, taste. Taste is obviously the most significant. Each of us has anywhere between 2,000 and 10,000 taste buds, which are mostly contained within those little bumps on our tongues (in case you were wondering, those bumps are called pappillae). Our taste buds are made up of cells that allow us to experience tastes such as salty, sweet, sour, bitter and savory (also sometimes called "umami").
Why do we prefer, and crave, certain foods?
Without getting too deep into the science, it is well-established that we tend to prefer the flavors and foods we are familiar with. From a young age, many of us are exposed to A LOT of foods that are sweet and salty. Just think about some of the foods you may have grown up eating...french fries, chicken nuggets, pizza, potato chips, pretzels, cookies, cupcakes, doughnuts, ice cream...just to name a few. Since these are the foods many of us are most familiar with, they become the ones we prefer. And, because these sweet and salty foods are so abundant, our taste buds tend to reject or shy away from foods that are more bitter, sour or savory.
Just look at different regions of the world and you will see the same phenomenon. In Mexico, people tend to prefer spicy food. In India, people prefer curries more than in other parts of the world. In Japan, fish is high on the list of preferred foods. Why? Because those are the foods people grew up eating and are most familiar with. What about the U.S.? Lucky Charms and pizza rolls?!
What is the Bliss Point?
I was once asked, "my brother drinks Dr. Pepper all day long...is this why he doesn't think fruits, like grapes, are sweet at all?" This is exactly why...his taste buds have been hijacked by the intense amounts of sugar in Dr. Pepper and his bliss point, or sweet satisfaction level, is extremely high.
It is no secret that the food industry has spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to understand what drives our cravings and taste preferences. After all, they are in business to make money and, the more of their food we buy, the more money they make. Food companies invest heavily in food scientists, whose mission is to produce foods that hit our "bliss point" (described by food scientist, Howard Moskowitz, as the highest level of sweet without becoming too sweet.)
Because most Americans prefer sugar, salt and fat, these companies are searching for the perfect combination that will keep people coming back for more (Lay's was serious when they said "betcha can't eat just one"). If they can hit the bliss point, this can disrupt the "hey, you're full" messaging from our brains and keep us going back for more. Over time, we become desensitized to the dopamine rush from these foods, and then we have to eat more and more to get the same satisfaction.
This bliss point targeting has now made its way into SO MANY foods, including things like breads, pasta sauces, salad dressings, yogurts, nuts, cereals and sodas. Something as simple as nuts is now highly influenced by food scientists trying to create flavors that keep us eating, and buying, even more of their products. Habanero BBQ, Cinnamon-Sugar, Coconut Toffee, Garlic Parmesan...all readily available in the nut section of your store!
Have the food companies taken control, or hijacked, our tastebuds?
You could definitely make that argument, with their focus on sugar, salt and fat, and doing everything they can to get us to buy more of their products. And arguably shortening our lives in the process.
So, the big question...can you retrain your taste buds, and change your cravings?
YES! The great news is our tastebuds are VERY adaptable. They regenerate themselves continuously and have an average lifespan of about 10 days. Some experts say that your tastebuds can be reprogrammed in just 10 days, while others say it may take 6-8 weeks to be fully transformed.
One of our favorite quotes is from Dr. David Katz, who says, "When your taste buds can't be with the foods they love, they learn to love the foods they're with." (Sorry, you may now have the Crosby, Stills & Nash song playing in your head the rest of the day!)
Think about coffee - many talk about how coffee is an "acquired taste." This is probably because the "bitter" taste initially turns people off. Your taste buds may tell you the only way they will like coffee is if you load it up with the sweetness that comes from sugar or cream. Over time, though, many people come to prefer and crave coffee, even without all the sweeteners.
You may be surprised how quickly your taste buds and cravings will change. If you cut out added sugar, and only eat fruits for a sweet treat, for even as short as 10 days, you may be shocked how sweet things will taste on day 11. The same is true if you cut out excessive amounts of salt.
As Zonya always says...it's the dose that makes the poison!
Trust us...taste bud rehab is a real thing!
We can personally relate to this. Before our REAL food journey, our cravings were controlled by burgers, fries, pizza, soda, Chinese takeout, doughnuts, brownies - and so many other processed foods. We had a long list of foods we didn't like, which all happened to be healthy REAL food.
As we began eating more REAL foods, we were naturally eating fewer salty and sweet processed foods. Without even realizing it, our cravings changed - and it happened very quickly! We now crave vegetables (LOTS of vegetables), fruits, nuts, whole grains, beans, fish and meats (in other words, REAL FOOD!)...including those foods we previously thought we didn't like.
A few taste bud transformation tips:
- Increase your exposure to REAL foods. As these become more familiar and part of your routine, you will find yourself preferring more of these foods. We still stop ourselves in amazement that we actually now crave mushrooms multiple times a week, even though they used to be at the top of the list of foods we tried to avoid!
- Decrease your exposure to processed and fast foods. As your taste buds are reprogrammed, your cravings for these foods will continually decrease.
- Be mindful. Think about how you feel after eating a meal loaded with REAL food. Do the same when you eat a meal loaded with fast or highly-processed foods. And, be aware of how foods taste as your taste buds change (notice how much sweeter and saltier those processed and fast foods become).
If you are struggling to retrain your taste buds, try our tips for 10 days...we think you will be amazed!
You can do it -- there is no downside!
Have you experienced a taste bud transformation?
We would love to hear your story!