A Simple, Science-Backed Strategy to Trick Your Body Into Liking Vegetables
Everyone knows they should probably eat more vegetables. But most people either don’t want to or they just don’t know how. Here’s how to do it…
Several years ago, my wife and I met up with some people we knew through the Internet (risky, I know!) for a day hike. It was these guys. And yes, they’re awesome. Long story short, we hit it off and became friends. But something happened that afternoon in the White Mountains that I’ll never forget. After a hike through torrential downpours – the kind that even decent rain gear can’t protect you from, we were all huddled together – soaked to the bones – under a tarp having lunch. It was a potluck, and before we came, we learned that our soon-to-be friends were vegetarians.
Not being vegetarians ourselves, my wife and I looked at each other thinking, “what do vegetarians eat?”
So, we brought our best salad recipe, and it was devoured by both families while our dog, Ronin, sat in the downpour. After we finished eating, our friends’ youngest child, who I think was six years old at the time, turned to us and cheerfully said, “thank you for the delicious salad.”
I think my mouth dropped open at that moment. Not only did this child think to thank us for contributing some food (good job Mom & Dad!), but she also described it as “delicious,” which I think means that she liked it. I’ll be honest. I haven’t met many six year old kids who think that vegetables are “delicious.”
Needless to say, that tiny sliver of a moment rocked my world a little, and changed my perspective. I started thinking, maybe kids can like vegetables. Maybe it’s all in how you raise them. Maybe we’re born with a blank slate when it comes to our food preferences.
And now that we’ve got four kids of our own, our extended family and friends often comment that they’re amazed at how much our kids like vegetables. And now that I think about it, lately, I often have to fork over my veggies to our eldest who insists on eating more than Dad. That kid can pack ’em down! Just like his Daddy.
Which leads me to my next point…
I’ve heard this comment many times before:
But I just don’t like vegetables, John.
And whenever I hear this, I try not to roll my eyes, do my best to smile and nod understandably, and I probably think, “Oh, c’mon! Stop acting like you’re five.”
But in all seriousness, what you really mean when you say that you don’t like vegetables is probably along the lines of:
a) I don’t like veggies as much as I like other foods (e.g. frozen pizza, fast food, or spaghetti and meatballs, etc.)
b) I haven’t figured out a way to like vegetables yet.
Because let me tell you! You’d have a hard time convincing me that you don’t like any vegetables at all. I mean, have you tried them all and that’s your conclusion? Because there are hundreds of common vegetables out there, and most of them are available in every major grocery store and supermarket. Plus, there are a myriad of ways to prepare them, including countless delicious options. So, in my humble opinion, there’s absolutely no way you hate all vegetables and are destined to hate them for the rest of your life.
I’d bet you just don’t like the idea of eating vegetables because you didn’t like them as a kid. Or, maybe you were forced to eat them against your will. And besides, they’re a yucky “health food,” and you’d rather just eat the better-tasting stuff. Right?
And you know, I can relate. I wasn’t exactly a picky eater growing up. But man, did I hate Brussels sprouts.
“Just try one,” my mom would say.
Guh, no… no way. Not gonna do it. I hate ’em…okay, OK! I’ll try one – just one! Blech! Yuck! …See! I STILL hate ’em!
But you know what? I like Brussels sprouts now. And now that I’ve got a Siffer-family of my own, we actually eat them pretty regularly. Granted, we usually prepare them a little differently than my Mom did. She usually boiled them, and we usually roast, fry, or grill them. But you know what’s interesting? Whenever we go to visit my parents, and Mom’s serving Brussels sprouts (boiled), I like them that way, too.
So, what changed?
Well, not only does your taste in food change as your taste buds mature, your taste in food is trainable. So, you can learn to like new foods, even if you don’t like them today. And in my experience, it usually doesn’t take much time or effort – just a willingness to try. That’s the key.
Elizabeth D. Capaldi, Ph.D. who is a professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo and an expert in taste preferences says that “every time you eat, you’re giving yourself a learning trial, training yourself to prefer something.” So, whatever you eat regularly – whether it’s “healthy food” or not, your body will adapt to eating it. You’ll start to enjoy it more over time, until eventually, it actually appeals to you.
Doctor Capaldi’s years of research has led her to recommend what she calls “flavor-flavor learning,” which is a strategy of combining foods you don’t like with ones you do like to gradually change your tastes in food.
Here’s a description of flavor-flavor learning from the University of Buffalo site…
It involves linking a food that may be good nutritionally, but not particularly toothsome, with a taste that humans are genetically programmed to like, such as sweetness. The theory goes like this: Once the palate has learned to associate broccoli, for example, with “tastes good,” and that taste pattern is set, the sweetness can be removed gradually and broccoli will be appreciated on its own merits. – Source.
And here’s the cool part: eventually, not only will you start to enjoy the healthy foods you’re eating, but you actually start to crave them, too.
Now, if you told me 15 years ago that someday – and much sooner than I thought – I would start craving vegetables and stop craving fast food, I would have laughed in your face. But that’s exactly what happened.
So, if you hate a particular vegetable – maybe it’s broccoli, asparagus, or tomatoes – find a completely new way to eat it. And make sure you dress it up in something you do like.
So, go ahead and melt some cheese over that broccoli. Fry up those spears of asparagus in butter. Have a slice of tomato on your next hamburger. Put some peanut butter on your celery. Dip your carrots in ranch dressing. Add some lettuce to your burrito. Blend some kale into your smoothie. Or, take the doctor’s advice and just sprinkle a little sugar on whatever it is.
Basically, you need to find a way to enjoy the veggies you don’t like. And if that’s just impossible, you’re probably not being creative enough. But when all else fails, find a way to simply tolerate a serving of whatever you’re trying. Your taste buds will adapt in time.
Keep in mind that training yourself to eat new foods isn’t restricted to vegetables. You can train yourself to:
- start drinking your coffee black
- prefer healthier, homemade desserts instead of store-bought junk food, or
- make any other change to your diet
The important thing to keep in mind is that your taste in food can change, and every time you eat something, you’re shaping your future food preferences.
Now, as I said in my article, 6 Baby Steps to Quickly Improve Your Health and Fitness, “If you believe that you just ‘don’t like vegetables,’ then in my opinion, you probably just haven’t tried hard enough. Believe me, there are ways to prepare veggies that you will enjoy. You certainly don’t have to force-feed or deprive yourself.”
The key is baby steps.
So, to wrap things up, remember these two facts…
Fact 1: the more often that you eat vegetables, the better they will taste.
Fact 2: and if you do that, then over time, you will actually start to crave healthier foods.
Can you imagine if your cravings for junk food completely disappeared and you started craving things like salad? Think about the implications of that for a minute.
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Health-First Fitness Coach
P.P.S. Photo credit: 1.
P.P.P.S. Still don’t believe me? Ask my buddy Sam I Am…
You do not like them.
So you say.
Try them! Try them!
And you may.
Try them and you may, I say.