Changing your tastes for better health and wellbeing

When it comes to improving our health and wellbeing, we often make adjustments to our food and drink. Reducing sugar, salt and fat can alter the taste of produce but our taste buds soon adjust.

Our bodies perceive 5 different tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. We tend to be attracted more to sweet and salty tastes. Often, we’re repelled by bitter and sour tastes, a clever evolutionary trait that developed to keep us from eating poisonous or decaying foods.  

Studies suggest that taste buds have an average lifespan of around 10 days. This goes some way to explain how we can gradually change our taste buds over time. If you don’t take sugar in your tea and you’re mistakenly given a cup with two spoonfuls, it tastes overwhelmingly sweet. Conversely, if you normally take sugar in your tea and are given a sugarless cup, it’ll taste bitter. We get used to what we repeatedly consume and build a tolerance to tastes.  

Added sugar/fat/salt in our diet elevates our risk of developing serious health conditions like heart disease and diabetes type 2 and well as causing weight gain. A while after reducing our intake of these foods, we’ll find ourselves enjoying the subtleties of food more, like the sweetness in fruit and some veg.  

So, what can we do when we want to eat nourishing food that we don’t like the taste of, or if we don’t enjoy our favourite dishes without added salt or sugar? 

  • Start small. If you remove everything you’re used to at once, you’ll find it incredibly difficult to stick with. Try and make wise choices each day and add healthy choices to your meals in place of things you remove.  
  • Keep at it. Studies into picky eaters show it can take in excess of 10 tastings to like certain foods. Persistence will get you there.  
  • Retraining our taste buds can be done over time, e.g. tapering 2 tsp sugar, to 1.5, to 1, half and finally no sugar in your tea. 
  • Combine foods you like with those you are trying to develop a taste for. Try adding sweet potato into your regular mashed potato or replacing half of your beef mince with a grated carrot and a cup of lentils in your usual bolognaise sauce.  
  • Home cooking can help. Cooking from scratch means you’ll avoid processed foods with added sugar/salt/fats/preservatives.  
  • Use herbs, spices, citrus fruits and more to flavour and season food and drink. 
  • Try to eat mindfully, focus on enjoying the sights, smells and tastes of your food, not the TV or your smartphone.  
  • Smoking and drinking alcohol both dull our sense of taste, meaning we often over salt/sugar food to get a satisfactory taste. Stopping smoking is always a good idea, contact your GP for services in your area.  

When we eat sugary/fatty/salty foods often, we lose our sensitivity to their taste. By reducing them, we can reset our palette and reverse the tolerance we’ve built up. This means we can enjoy the wonderful tastes of fresh, healthy foods all the more. 


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