Retrain Your Taste Buds

Most kids are like my little nephew, Jalen. They sure loves their chocolate milk
Most kids are like my little nephew, Jalen. They sure loves their chocolate milk

Our taste buds evolve and can weaken over time. This is most evident when comparing taste buds of children versus those of the elderly. Children have super sensitive taste buds. For example, their heightened abilities allow them to taste the bitterness in vegetables more than their parents can (that’s one reason why they may not enjoy eating their vegetables)! Examine the other end of the spectrum at which elderly persons can lose much or all of their sense of taste. They load up on the salt and sugar to help them enjoy their food more because they can’t taste anything.

On Monday, my classmate, Ashley, said something that blew my mind: “you can retrain your taste buds.” It reminded me of how I quit drinking soda a few years ago. While I was a student at UCLA, soda was always freely available from the dining halls. I used to drink 5-6 regular sodas a day, which was a contributing factor to my 20-lb weight gain in the first 5 weeks of school. So, I decided to make a New Year’s resolution to stop drinking soda. A year later, I had my first soda in the form of a root beer float. It was glorious, but I distinctly remembering it tasting sweeter than before, even too sweet. I switched to Diet soda, and eventually, I stopped drinking soda completely with the exception of very rare, special occasions.

What’s fascinating is that as adults, we can retrain our taste buds on how sensitive they are to certain tastes. This can be helpful in improving our diet!

Try this challenge: for a period of time (2 weeks, 30 days, or beyond), try to modify just one habit that you have. The key is modify. You don’t have to completely eliminate your cravings. For example:

– drink diet soda instead of regular soda
– dilute your juice with water
– use one packet of sugar instead of two or three in your morning latte
– drink unsweetened iced instead of pre-sweetened iced tea
– eat salads with naturally sweet/flavorful ingredients instead of adding ranch dressing
– switch to tomato sauce instead of cream sauce
– eat plain yogurt with fruit instead of ice cream

After a period of time, you’ll want to try those old habits again. When you do, not only will you notice an intense and increased sensitivity to the old flavors, but also, maybe you’ll see that you prefer how you’re eating now. For me, I used to enjoy ice cream by the gallon, but now I’m happy with one or two small scoops every so often. I haven’t eliminated the foods I crave, but I’ve moderated the amount because I retrained my taste buds to be more sensitive to super sweet foods.

This exercise focuses on being mindful when we eat. It’s so easy to focus on the caloric or nutritional information of foods, but this challenge is about really thinking about how our foods taste. Does it taste too sweet? too salty? too fatty? Eating healthier doesn’t mean eating things that taste like cardboard. But it’s important to note that maybe we’ve been eating too much junk that our taste buds need more of it to enjoy it. Take the challenge and retrain your taste buds! You’ll have a new found enjoyment of food, discover new flavors, and practice moderation with your cravings.

Happy Eating,

Thomas Ngo
NASM Certified Personal Trainer
Dietetic Intern


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