Want to be Healthier? Change Your Taste Buds

Want to Be Healthier? Change Your Taste Buds

How can we overcome our built-in hunger drives for salt, sugar, and fat? We now have evidence showing that if we go a few weeks cutting down on junk food and animal products, our tastes start to change. We may actually be able to taste fat—just like we taste sweet, sour, and salty—and people on low fat diets start liking low fat foods more and high fat foods less.

Our tongues appear to become more sensitive to fat if we eat less of it. And the more sensitive our tongues become, the less butter, meat, dairy, and eggs study subjects ate. We also get a blunted taste for fat if we eat too much. This diminished fat sensitivity has been linked to eating more calories; more fat; more dairy, meat, and eggs; and becoming fatter ourselves. And this change in sensation, this numbing of our ability to taste fat, can happen within just a few weeks.

In my video, Changing Our Taste Buds, you can see when researchers put people on a low-salt diet, over the ensuing weeks, study subjects like the taste of salt-free soup more and more, and the taste of salty soup less and less. Our tastes physically change. If we let them salt their own soup to taste, they add less and less the longer they’re on the diet. By the end, soup tastes just as salty with half the salt. For those who’ve been on sodium restricted diets, regularly salted foods taste too salty and they actually prefer less salty food. That’s why it’s important for doctors to explain to patients that a low-salt diet will gradually become more palatable as their taste for salt diminishes. The longer we eat healthier foods, the better they taste.

That’s why I’ve always encouraged my patients to think of healthy eating as an experiment. I ask them to give it three weeks. The hope is by then they feel so much better (not only physically, but in the knowledge that they don’t have to be on medications for chronic diseases the rest of their lives after all!—see Say No to Drugs by Saying Yes to More Plants) and their taste sensitivity has been boosted such that whole foods-as-grown regain their natural deliciousness.

To see how a healthy diet can make you feel, check out the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s 21-Day Kickstart program at http://www.21daykickstart.org/.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2015 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Image Credit: M Glasgow / Flickr

  • Ginger C

    I have found this to be quite true.

  • Betsy

    When I gave up cheese and then tried it after a few months without, it tasted terrible to me…oily and slimey. So our tastes can definitely adjust to a healthy diet.

    • fruit bat

      OMG I remember this feeling! Nine years ago now when I was 14, I was struggling to give up cheese and go vegan from vegetarian. I abstained for 8 months (gluten free too) – it was a huge struggle and I missed cheese every day. Finally I caved and had my favourite grilled cheese pitta bread. And you know what? It wasn’t that nice. It’s just salty fat. And I felt so hollow for giving in to my ethics. I’ve never (intentionally) eaten dairy since! The mind tricks of cravings and what you body is telling you is amazing. Did you know the caseo-opioids in cheese are 10% as addictive as morphine? Cooked meat contains opioids too. That’s why animals (including sheep and other grazers) who’ve been fed cooked meat will refuse to eat anything else. That’s why meat and dairy is so hard to give up. The salty lumps of fat that are cheese are not “nice”- your body just associates them with “nice” because it knows it’s about to get its opioid fix. Same with meat – the chewy, fibrous stuff isn’t “nice”, your body perceives it as such because of the opioid association.

      Aside from opioid addiction and not knowing what to expect, I failed my first attempt at veganism because I didn’t know what to eat – I was eating my previous diet only without the animal stuff. I was cutting things out, instead of adding things in, and of course trying to follow my pre-conceived stereotypical notions of a vegan diet by eating fake soya-derived products, muesli and quinoa. It took me about a year before I learnt what vegans actually eat and my diet became far more varied and pleasurable than ever before :)

  • This is very true. After a month the fatty junk food I loved didn’t taste good anymore. Give fresh blueberries and strawberries; those taste much better than junk food ever did.

  • macbev

    I like this because it gives me more ammunition for sticking to a healthy diet – realizing that if I “cheat,” I am making it easier to “like” unhealthy food.

  • rc

    This is 100% true. been pure plant based diet just over a year, lost 30 lbs. only downside is I love beer and now almost all beers taste way too sweet….:(

    • responsible D

      Since changing over to almost 100% plant based about six months ago, I’ve found that I’m much more sensitive to alcohol than I was before. Only a few drinks will disrupt my sleep and leave me with a headache the next day. I suppose that as you remove some of the toxins from your diet, the effects of the others become more apparent.

  • becca10

    Plant based diets may extend our lives as long as those plants are not genetically engineered to drink Roundup. Most soy is genetically engineered to drink Roundup and has lower nutritional value and extreme levels of this chronically toxic weed killer which is found in the seeds themselves. In other words, you cannot wash off the herbicide!

    Since Americans do not have mandatory labeling and the right to know if the soy they are ingesting contains Genetic Modification, I suggest it is better not to eat or drink it. Even organic soy is becoming toxic.
    See the article in the Ecologist for more.


  • Vitaqueen

    Cheese now taste very salty to me.

  • Larisa

    A lot of oil-free advocates state that we can only taste four things- salty, sweet, sour, and bitter and that we can not taste fat. However, there apparently have been some recent discoveries regarding receptors for fat and umami. The article in fat receptors was presumably published in the Journal of Lipid Research. Would you comment on the validity of these reports and the implications.