It’s no secret: many of us are flat out addicted to sugar. But if we look at the foods that we are surrounded by, it’s not much of a mystery as to why. We are surrounded by sugary, salty snacks at every turn we take. The grocery store check-out line, the gas station, the movie theatre, vending machines, food courts, and office breakrooms are stocked with unhealthy snacks. So if you are looking to ax the sugar and reset your taste buds you’re in the right place.
Highly flavored processed foods have completely hijacked our sense of taste. They are driving our unhealthy cravings and just plain sabotaging our health. Trying to satisfy these inherent cravings for sugars, fats, and sodium with hyperflavored convenience food fails to meet our nutritional needs. Also, by eating all of that junk food actually makes us crave even more processed foods. Sugar, fat, and salt also activate regions in our brains associated with desire and reward. Food manufacturers know this, and they are constantly creating complex flavors and textures that are specifically and expressly designed to be irresistible.
Your failure to quickly adapt to a wholesome diet isn’t entirely your fault. Research indicates that sugar and fat can be addictive, and one brain imaging study using PET scans showed that foods high in these substances work like heroin, opium, or morphine in the brain.
The good news is that you can consciously reset your taste buds in the service of your health. Don’t worry it doesn’t involve some crazy diet or strange pills you get from Amazon. The main idea is to tone down the sugar in a smart and sustainable way. But before we get into that let’s first understand our tastebuds and what they do.
How Your Taste Buds Work
To a point, taste preferences are hard-wired. Across cultures, people generally prefer foods that taste sweet and dislike bitter ones. Also, your taste buds have played a part in our evolutionary process. Sweetness is associated with foods that provide the energy needed for survival. Bitterness often signals the presence of a toxin. However, how much a person prefers sweet or dislikes bitter, partly depends upon the number of taste buds and the type of taste receptors they inherit.
When we eat, chemicals in our food are sensed by the thousands of taste buds on the bumpy projections (fungiform papillae) of our tongues. The chemicals attach to receptors are sending signals to the brain. These register as our taste perceptions. Receptors also respond to the temperature of foods and chemicals that create physical sensations. This is like when you eat spicy jalapeños.
Also, smell plays into one’s flavor experiences! Foods release chemicals that travel up the nose and olfactory receptors. This triggers a chain reaction of signals that amplify taste perceptions. That’s why when you eat a fruity flavored candy it’s not really “bursting with flavor” because it doesn’t have a significant smell like natural fruit does.
Your taste buds are actually one of your most sensitive senses, along with touch. Which is why our taste buds can get hooked on certain flavors or tastes really easily. However, it is also straightforward processing to reset your taste buds. All that it takes is a little patience and avoiding those pesky sugary foods!
How To Reset Your Taste Buds
The biggest perpetrators that are wreaking havoc on your health and your taste palate are sodium and sugar. These two ingredients are highly addictive and are found in a million packaged foods. So if you are looking to kick your sugar and salt addiction, it starts with resetting your taste buds.
Reset Your Taste Buds Tip #1: Begin By Eating Whole Foods
Resetting your palate starts with gearing toward eating real, whole foods. That means foods that are not processed or full of sugar. The key is cutting down in baby steps. If, for example, you typically take three sugars in your coffee, try adding only two this week, then one the next. Within a month, you’ll notice that smaller amounts of your guilty pleasures are enough to hit the spot—leaving your palate more receptive to new flavors.
Whether you gradually ease off highly flavored processed foods or eliminate them all at once, your sense of taste will eventually become more attuned to subtler flavor variations. You might notice a difference within just a few weeks of eliminating the bad stuff.
Reset Your Taste Buds Tip #2: Try To Eat Slowly and Mindfully
Not only is mindful eating a stress-reducing practice, but it can also intensify the flavors and ultimately feel more satisfying eating a wholesome food than eating the unhealthy food you crave. Eventually, when your palate has lost its tolerance for really sweet or salty foods, a few mindful bites of a cupcake or potato chips will be more than enough if you decide to indulge.
Reset Your Taste Buds Tip #3: Do A Drink Detox
Try to reduce, or ideally eliminate, alcohol and caffeine. These both affect our blood sugar levels and it has been proven that when our blood sugar levels are more stable, we are less likely to crave sugary foods and are more likely to maintain a healthy weight. Try simple swaps like having a cup of herbal tea in place of that extra caffeinated cup and alternate a glass of water with alcoholic drinks each round.
Reset Your Taste Buds Tip #4: Don’t Skip Out On Breakfast
Make time for breakfast. We can often go wrong with breakfast when we’re in a rush in the morning, reaching for sugary quick-fixes. It’s worth getting up 10 minutes earlier! Try to eat a breakfast that contains slow-release carbohydrates that will maintain steady energy levels, as well as a little protein, and healthy fats to help keep you feeling fuller longer. Some porridge topped with nut butter, banana and a sprinkling of seeds is a great start to the day.
Reset Your Taste Buds Tip #5: Eat A Variety of Fresh Foods
Try to eat between 5-10 portions of different colored fruit and vegetables a day. You’ve heard this before for a reason. It really is so important that we get all the nutrients we need to ensure optimum health. Smoothies are a great way of upping your fruit and veg intake.
This is important to reset your taste buds because you want your pallet to be diverse. If you get used to one thing or one ingredient, your body begins to crave. This is because you have trained your body to need it. So if you diversify what you are putting in, you are breaking those cravings habits and getting tons of nutrients.
Reset Your Taste Buds Tip #6: Read Your Labels
Here is a quick fact: There are at least 61 different names for sugar listed on food labels! This can be the super daunting and discouraging part about trying to avoid sugar. It’s hidden everywhere! So, don’t just trust that flashy packaging on that granola bar.
Sugar, sodium, and fat lurk in all types of places and all types of forms! So don’t fall for tag lines like “hint of salt” or “naturally sweetened”. Those are often there to cover up tons of sodium and sweeteners like honey or brown rice syrup. For reference, here is a quick list of different sugar names to watch out for:
- Agave nectar
- Evaporated cane juice
- Fruit juice
- Golden syrup
- Maple syrup
- Refiner’s syrup
- Sorghum syrup
- Barley malt
- Brown rice syrup
- Corn syrup
- Diastatic malt
Reset Your Taste Buds Tip #7: Indulge Wisely
Going cold turkey definitely isn’t for everyone and gaining progress can be hard. So if you are one of those people who need a bit of a crutch to get you to your goal, no judgment! A great way to getting towards the goal to reset your tastebuds is to not ignore your cravings completely. Because if you do, it can often lead to falling off the wagon fully. If you push yourself too hard the next thing you know, you’re eating skittles and drinking diet coke.
So if you need something sweet after dinner, then have a piece of fruit. If you like dessert, try mixing nonfat Greek yogurt with unsalted nuts and fruit. The same can go for your salty fix. A plate of low sodium crackers and hummus is a great way to indulge in a healthy snack while satisfying cravings.