If we’re accustomed to eating less healthy foods on a regular basis, it can be hard to break the habit. Our tastebuds don’t light up for fresh vegetables and unsweetened yoghurt the way they do for a burger or packet of biscuits. But they can. Retraining our tastebuds to enjoy food without adding salt or sugar takes around three weeks. To get you started, just follow our five-step plan towards a healthier way of eating. by Paula Goodyer
Don’t go cold turkey Gradually introduce more whole foods into your diet each day.
Start by replacing the salty snacks with fresh fruit. Then, as your tastebuds are adjusting, move on to include more fresh vegies, especially those that are in season, as they have more flavour, says
Tania Ferraretto, Accredited Practising Dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia. Try salads for lunch, and load up your plate with vegies at dinnertime.“Your tastebuds are very adaptable. It takes about three weeks to adjust to eating less salt. Use herbs and spices to make it easier,” Ferraretto says.
Know what you’re really eating “Make a note of what you eat and drink over a few days by writing it down or using a food diary app,” says Dr Tracy Burrows, senior lecturer in Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Newcastle.“You might think that you eat healthily, but then there’s that takeaway on Monday, a night out with friends on Tuesday, and cake in the office on Thursday. It’s not until you note it down that you can see what you’ve really been eating all week.”
Beware of processed foods in disguise Words such as ‘natural’ or ‘superfood’ don’t guarantee that a food has a healthy amount of sugar, salt or fat. So, always check the ingredients list to see exactly what the product contains.
Read the label Not everything sold in packets is over-processed – rolled oats, natural muesli, wholegrain bread, frozen vegetables and fruit, as well as many dairy foods (the unsweetened kind) are just some examples of minimally processed foods, Ferraretto says. Read the ingredients list on the back of the pack. And if salt or sugar is in the top three, or there is a long list of additives, leave it on the shelf.
Make healthy eating convenient We often rely on over-processed or fast food because it’s quick and ready to eat.Yet there are so many healthy options that are just as convenient, such as frozen vegetables, cans of tuna and chickpeas, tinned tomatoes and microwavable rice blends.
one exception: breast milk. This makes sense, says Small, since it is important for infants to learn to suckle in order to survive.
But apart from that it’s the many processed foods that are high in fat and carbohydrate (such as doughnuts, chocolate bars and potato chips) that take advantage of the reward stimulation that occurs in our brains when we consume this combo of ingredients. Dr David Kessler, author of The End of Overeating explains: “We know that in combination we can make food, in essence, more potent, more multisensory.” And therefore more addictive.
CUT YOUR CRAVING
The good news is that Kessler and many others have realised there is a way to stop the cycle of craving, consume, reward – and that’s to rewire the brain’s response to food. “We need to change the way we look at food,” Kessler explains. Instead of looking at a huge burger on a plate piled high with chips as a guilty pleasure, we need to look at it and say to ourselves: “That’s not going to make me feel good.” For more tips see opposite page.
Another important key is to avoid the cues that turn your brain’s attention to those easy-to-eat foods: change your route so that you don’t walk past the bakery each morning with the yummy muffins, turn down the volume on food ads or swap that third milky coffee of the day for a herbal tea.
Cravings also arise from thinking about the food you crave, which intensifies the anticipation. To break this thought cycle, Kessler suggests a more structured eating approach where you create a plan of what you’re going to eat and when. To retrain your tastebuds keep rules simple (such as ‘eat more whole foods and plant food’) and allow yourself small servings of food like chocolate some days. According to Kessler, “What’s important is that you anticipate when you’re going to get hungry, and not allow yourself to feel excessively deprived – because that’s only going to increase the reward value of food and make it harder to stop.”