Most children take a while to come around to enjoying vegetables, but what happens if they never do? Vegetables, especially greens, should make up a substantial portion of our diet, and not liking them as an adult can be problematic for our nutrition.
But the good news is you can train yourself to enjoy the taste of vegetables, according to scientists. In a recently conducted study, researchers found that our reaction to bitter tastes such as spinach, broccoli and Brussel sprouts is all in the saliva.
Specific proteins found in your saliva can affect your sense of taste and diet composition, researchers at the University of Buffalo found, and this can help determine how you perceive the tastes of certain foods.
Thankfully, you can train your taste buds to interpret bitter tastes differently with repeated exposure. Scientists conducted experiments on rats which involved getting them to try two different waters – one sweet and one bitter. The study, published in the journal Chemical Senses, found that the rats which had been repeatedly exposed to a bitter diet did not pick up on the bitterness in the water.
"What you eat creates the signature in your salivary proteome, and those proteins modulate your sense of taste," says Ann-Marie Torregrossa, an assistant professor in the University of Boston's Department of Psychology and the associate director of the university's Centre for Ingestive Behavior Research.
"We've shown in previous work with rats that changing your diet changes what proteins are in your saliva. Now we're showing that the proteins in your saliva change how you taste."
"If we can convince people to try broccoli, greens and bitter foods, they should know that with repeated exposure, these vegetables will taste better once they regulate these proteins."
The first steps to training yourself to like vegetables
While it can be hard to change the habit of a lifetime, there are some simple ways that you can introduce more vegetables into your diet. Here are some suggestions:
- Try adding green vegetables such as spinach into fruit smoothies. A cup of blended spinach might change to colour of your drink, but it won't affect the taste too much if it is balanced out with sweet fruits.
- Try mixing vegetables in with traditional carbs. For example, use a mix of spiraled zucchini and noodles, or rice and cauliflower rice to up your veg intake.
- Add root vegetables to thicken out traditional soups. They will provide a creamy texture, and spices can help disguise the flavour.
- Experiment with different cooking styles. For example, roasting kale instead of boiling it will make crunchy kale crisps – a much more enjoyable texture than when boiled or steamed.
- Try and make vegetables the base of your meal and build from there. For example, grilled stuffed pepper or mushrooms will allow you to add fillings or toppings of your choice, built around the vegetable.