How to Retrain Your Taste Buds for a Healthier Diet

My son was a phenomenal eater as a baby. He’d slurp up his sweet potatoes and pound his peas. Apples were his favorite, and he’d down the pureed pears and plums like a champ. I’d mix veggies with bananas, wheat cereal and even a little in his milk. But when he turned two, the little tyrant started throwing it down every meal. It was gruesome, and many peas paid the price.

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At around two years old, neophobia, or a fear of trying new foods, sets in. Children have the ability to express their displeasure for foods at a very early age, and they show it by spitting it out, throwing it onto the floor, across the room or painting the walls and the ceiling with it. That was my son.

Anything green flew from his mouth in a projectile explosion that left us both ugly-sobbing. When our little ones start making the transition from the wondrous nutrition that is breast milk to solid food, they soon shifted to fruit and veggies – peas, carrots, spinach, green beans, squash – you name it.

Yet somewhere between veggie-full plates and the age of ordering off a children’s menu, the color fades from the plate like a person about to faint. From a palette of red, orange, green, purple and blue, we introduce processed snacks, hot dogs, French fries and potato chips – the array of white to brown kid’s food – and somehow ditch all the gorgeous colors they once thrived on. By this point, kids and parents almost get conditioned to accept that as the norm because, quite frankly, it’s easier to give in and avoid a tantrum.

If you’re over the age of 18 and still consider a bowl of sugary cereal with a root beer float chaser a solid meal, there’s hope. It’s never too late to get your taste buds back on track. They just need some reconditioning and discipline.

Give Your Taste Buds a Workout

Taste buds are highly complex structures. Thousands of them respond to the physical sensations from food or drink, coupled with smell, sending signals to the brain and igniting a perception – savory, sweet, acidic, acrid, bland, salty, balanced and everything in between. Those taste buds need to be conditioned, tested and strengthened so that they can take on a broad spectrum of all those flavors.

When you retrain your taste buds, you also rewire your brain to crave different foods, and before you know it, you’ll see your plate from a different perspective. The same person who grew up eating sea vegetables, raw fish and rice can get hooked on SAD (standard American diet) in a heartbeat because sugar is addictive. Going the opposite way takes seeing food in a new way – one that gives you a new lease on life.

Imagine picking broccoli and Brussels sprouts over brownies? Through this eating plan, you’ll begin to actually crave – and even lust after – greens, fermented foods and umami-rich foods – that fifth taste profile that is often described as meaty or savory and found in all animal proteins and some plant-based ingredients like soy and mushrooms – into your daily routine. Yes, I said lust.

The enlightenment of knowing what your body needs and feeding it properly is a next-level game changer. It will shift your mood, your energy level, how you handle stress, how you deal with your relationships, your ability to sleep and every other aspect of your consciousness. You will crave good things.

This doesn’t mean you have to quit what you love cold turkey. It simply means you’re diversifying and developing a taste for more nutrient-dense sustenance. Flexing one of the most important muscles in your body, your tongue, means retraining it with the same focus and energy that you would use if you were muscle training at a gym.

By developing the sour, bitter and umami – you’ll learn to love foods such as spinach and other nutritious greens, celery, seaweed, citrus, fish, mushrooms and tomatoes, which will forever change how you eat and will help you naturally fight disease. You can transform how you build your meals, reset your taste buds and your waistline.

An 8-Day Training Plan

Now, you wouldn’t expect a person trying to get fit after sitting on the couch for years start benching 200 pounds or showing a six-pack in a few workouts. It takes to time to change a habit, but in eight days, you can help kick-start the process. During the eight days of taste bud reconditioning, you will be cutting out certain foods and eating at least five bites each of specific foods.

Numerous studies, including one done by the University of Illinois, suggests that we should try a food at least 10 times before determining if we like it or not. Forming a new habit can take as little as a week, so this focused reset window allows you to get accustomed to flavor-specific foods in an accelerated time frame. Since you’re cutting out trigger foods that tend to sabotage your taste buds, you’ll make conscious decisions of what to eat to get rid of unhealthy cravings.

If you’d like, you can dive into an eight-day meal plan that wraps many of these flavors together into a well-orchestrated package.

For eight days, eat at least five bites/sips of each of these ingredients daily:

•Mushrooms (other than white button).
•Dark leafy greens (such as spinach, arugula, chard, kale, broccoli, collard greens).
•Seaweed/sea vegetables.

For Non-Vegetarians:
Pick at least two: natural lean pork, chicken, beef, turkey, bison, wild game or eggs.

For Seafood Eaters:
Pick at least two: wild-caught fish, shrimp, mackerel, tuna, anchovies or sardines.

For Vegetarians:
Pick at least one: quinoa, seaweed, pickled foods, tempeh, edamame or miso.

  • All caloric sugar items, including maple syrup, agave and coconut sugar.
  • All breads and bread products (bread, tortillas, pasta).
  • Cow dairy products.
  • Processed foods (snack crackers, chips, bars, etc.).
  • Artificial sweeteners and colors.
  • Alcohol.
  • Soda and juice.

Courtesy St. Martin’s Griffin

8 More Tips to Retrain Your Taste Buds

2. Start with protein and fat in the morning and avoid sugary foods to stabilize your blood sugar. This can include egg dishes, chia seed pudding (yes, you can have pudding for breakfast) or smoothies made with mostly green veggies and a handful of low-glycemic fruit like berries and apples.

3. Combine protein, fat and complex carbs in every meal, focusing on bitter, sour and umami flavors.

4. Eat smaller meals every 3 to 4 hours to keep your energy high, rev your metabolism and sustain your blood sugar so you never feel hungry.

5. Enjoy at least one raw or mostly raw meal a day to get the maximum benefit out of your nutrients, enzymes and probiotics without cooking them.

6. Drink the Real Vitality Tonic (recipe below) once a day for eight days after your first meal of the day.

7. Drink a low-sodium umami bone broth (recipe below) mid-afternoon.

8. Give your full focus to the food. Sit, put the technology down and taste every bite, slowly. This is your time to fall in love with flavor again.

Low-Sodium Umani Bone Broth Recipe

My favorite way to make bone broth is in a slow cooker, but you can also do it in a pressure cooker. If you roast the veggies and bones first, it gives the broth an amazing, rich flavor. You’ll feel such a boost of energy from the natural collagen in the bones too. You can also use the same basic recipe for chicken bone broth. Feel free to add more veggies and turmeric or other spices to vary the flavor and make the broth more nutrient-dense.

  • 3 or 4 celery stalks, chopped into thirds.
  • 3 large carrots, chopped into 2-inch pieces.
  • 1 large red onion, quartered.
  • 2 garlic cloves, unpeeled.
  • 2 tablespoons ghee, melted.
  • 2 1⁄2 to 3 pounds beef soup bones (see note below).
  • 2 bay leaves.
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt.
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.
  • 3 tablespoons raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar.

1) Preheat the oven to 425°F.

2) In a large bowl, combine the celery, carrots, onion and garlic and toss with the melted ghee. Put the bones in a roasting pan, add the vegetables and spread everything into an even layer. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes, until the vegetables start to brown, taking care that nothing burns. Remove from the oven and transfer to a 6-quart slow cooker.

3) Add 12 cups water to the cooker. If your slow cooker is smaller, use less water. Cover and cook on low for 12 hours.

4) While the broth is hot, strain out the solids and skim the fat from the surface, then allow to cool. Store the broth in airtight containers in the refrigerator. It may solidify a bit and become jelly-like – that’s the collagen, the good stuff, so don’t chuck it. When you reheat the broth, the collagen will liquefy. Just give it a good stir to combine.

NOTE: For chicken bone broth, bring whole chicken to a boil, then reduce heat to a steady simmer for 11⁄2 hours. Pick the meat off the bones and save it for another use and reserve the cooking liquid, straining out solids and fat from the surface. Place the bones with the veggies as you would the beef bones, and use the defatted chicken cooking liquid to finish the broth in the slow cooker.

Real Vitality Tonic

  • 1 cup hot water.
  • 1 tablespoon raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar.
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice.
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon ground ginger.
  • 1 cinnamon stick.

Combine all the ingredients in a mug with 1 cup hot water and let steep for a few minutes. Sip after your first meal each day. Feel free to have a second cup later in the day, if you like, and save that cinnamon stick.