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6 Ways To Train Yourself To Like Healthier Foods (It's Not Too Late!)

Mareya Ibrahim
June 5, 2019
Mareya Ibrahim
Written by
Image by Christine Han / Stocksy
June 5, 2019
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Are you always craving sweets and wondering how to kick the post-dinner urge? Well, the good news is there's something you can do about nagging cravings, and it's quite a delicious solution. We can actually retrain our taste buds to like healthier foods—fermented foods, umami, greens. How? Mareya Ibrahim, the author of the new cookbook Eat Like You Give a Fork, lets us in on six ways we can show our taste buds that healthier foods are even more satisfying and better for us.
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Taste buds are highly complex structures. Thousands of them respond to temperature, and the physical sensations from food or drink coupled with smell send signals to the brain and ignite a perception—savory, sweet, acidic, acrid, bland, salty, balanced, and the range in between. Just like muscles, those taste buds need to be conditioned, tested, and strengthened so they can take on a broad spectrum of those flavors. This doesn't mean you have to quit the less-healthy foods you love cold turkey. It simply means you're diversifying and developing a taste for more nutrient-dense sustenance.

Flexing your taste buds means retraining them with the same focus and energy that you would use if you were strength training at the gym. By developing a taste for the sour, bitter, and umami—the taste profile that is often described as meaty or savory and is the result of a combination of amino acids—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. We'll transform how you build your meals, reset your taste buds, and refine your waistline, starting the minute you open your eyes in the morning. Dedicating half your plate to nonstarchy veggies will help you crush your goals.

Here's why we crave sugar.

You'll often hear someone describe themselves as having a sweet tooth. They finish a meal and start craning their necks, looking for the dessert tray, or spooning with the Chunky Monkey. Is it a habit or a true physiological need for sugar? It could be a little bit of both if you aren't getting enough protein or fat in your meals. What you eat for breakfast sets the tone for the day. Just think, if you start your day with a pile of pancakes doused in syrup, doughnuts, or even the perceived healthy option of sweetened yogurt with honey-laden granola, you train your taste buds to crave sugar and starchy foods for the rest of your waking moments. It's kind of a U.S. thing because when you look around the world, you find that most countries start their day savory.

In Japan, breakfast is sea vegetables, rice, and raw fish. In China, it's congee, a rice porridge that can be seasoned with mushrooms or pork, among other things. In Egypt, it's stewed brown fava beans with hummus, tahini, eggs, and pickled turnips. In Sweden, they'll have slabs of whole-grain cracker bread with slices of cheese, pate, and pickles. In Spain, its bread rubbed with garlic and tomato. In India, it might be lentil dosas with sour chutney or a spicy lentil dal soup. In Australia, you can get your Vegemite on toast. In Mongolia, the day wouldn't start on the right foot without boiled mutton. In Uganda, they eat stewed bananas and cow organs. In the Bahamas, a plate of spicy prawns and grits is the breakfast of champions. And in Peru, ceviche made with raw, marinated seafood is a typical starter for the day.

At a typical hotel breakfast buffet, you can get a stack of pancakes, cornflakes, chocolate milk, Danishes, muffins, waffles, toast, pound cake, and a variety of juices to wash it down with—and then go into a sugar coma. The same person who grew up eating sea vegetables and raw fish in Japan can acclimate to the sugary American diet in a heartbeat, but to go the opposite way takes a little more persuasion and time. Just look at where those taste buds sit on the tongue! The ones that crave sugar and salt are hanging out just at the tip, waiting to get their jollies on cookies, cake, and candy with a salt lick chaser. When you look at the physiological aspect of taste cravings, you begin to understand why it takes intentionality and brainpower to make the best choices. You can retrain your taste buds and lick the crazy cravings with our reset.

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Retrain your taste buds.

That tongue has a mind of its own, and if it had its way, it would be dipping its little papillae into sugar and salt all day. So it's time to wake up what's been in hibernation for a looooong time. You can gradually retrain your taste buds by conditioning them to crave umami, bitter, and sour flavors so your desire and cravings for cleaner eating eventually take flight. Fermented and vinegar-based preparations, spices, and amino acids will play a big role.

When you retrain your taste buds, you also retrain your brain to crave different foods, and before you know it, you'll see your plate from a different perspective. Imagine picking broccoli and Brussels sprouts over brownies. You'll begin to actually crave—and even lust after—greens, fermented foods, and umami everything in 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. You'll become stronger than you've ever felt, and you'll develop a deeper appreciation for that incredible temple of yours. It's that powerful, and I want you to experience it firsthand.

Reset your taste buds to get them on track.

Now, you wouldn't expect a person trying to get fit at the gym to bench press 200 pounds off the bat or start showing off a six-pack in a week. Just keep in mind that it can take trying a food up to 20 times before you develop a taste for it, so give peas a chance. Most of all, you will be giving your body a steady supply of nutrient-dense deliciousness while weaning yourself off the damaging effects of eating sugar, salt, and too much unhealthy fat:

  1. Build your plate starting with nonstarchy veggies.
  2. In the morning, start with protein and fat and avoid sugary foods to stabilize your blood sugar. This can include any of my 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 reconditioning meals every three to four 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 off.
  6. Give your full focus to your food. Sit down, put aside the technology, and eat slowly, tasting every bite. This is your time to fall in love with flavor again.
Based on excerpts from Eat Like You Give a Fork: The Real Dish on Eating To Thrive by Mareya Ibrahim with the permission of St. Martin's Griffin. Copyright © 2019.
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Mareya Ibrahim
Mareya Ibrahim

Mareya Ibrahim is a chef, holistic nutritionist, award-winning entrepreneur, and solo mother of two children. She's the author of the new cookbook Eat Like You Give A Fork and is the host of the popular Facebook Live show, The REAL Dish. She designed the meal plan and detox plan for the million copy New York Times bestseller The Daniel Plan, and also serves as one of the Signature Chefs for the program.