You know fruits and vegetables are good for you, and you know you should eat more of them – the problem is the taste.
If that excuse sounds familiar, you’re not alone: Taste is one of the most common reasons people in the clinic push me for not eating more fruits and vegetables.
The negative perception surrounding taste probably goes a long way to explaining why most people in the UK, on average, eat about three and a half servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
My husband, who is a GP, wasn’t convinced by fruits and vegetables when we first met. Then I worked my “science” on it – I hope it works for you too.
But before we get into the science, it’s worth noting that anything can taste bad if not prepared properly. Think chewy, dry, and overcooked steak.
So, yes, some of the secrets to eating more fruits and vegetables lie in how you prepare them—there’s a vast difference between boiled Brussels sprouts and a creamy pesto loaded with Brussels sprouts, walnuts, and Parmesan cheese.
You know fruits and vegetables are good for you, and you know you should eat more of them – the problem is the taste. If that excuse sounds familiar, you’re not alone: Taste is one of the most common reasons people in the clinic tell me not to eat more fruits and vegetables, writes Dr. Megan Rossi (pictured)
Our taste buds can develop so that you actually enjoy fruits and vegetables. Unconvinced? Remember how as a kid you hated the taste of coffee? You probably can’t start the day without it now
Now to the science behind manipulating our taste preferences. I say “manipulate” because our taste buds can develop so that we actually enjoy fruits and vegetables. Unconvinced? Remember how as a kid you hated the taste of coffee? You probably can’t start the day without it now.
And it doesn’t take long to “retrain” our sense of taste either — our taste buds, essentially a collection of taste receptor cells, regenerate every ten days or so.
In fact, a 2019 study from Belgium found that just two weeks of eating more fiber-rich vegetables reduced people’s desire for sweet, salty, and fatty foods — and reported that they enjoyed vegetables more.
Now you probably won’t be surprised to hear me say that bacteria play a role, too.
In this case, it’s the oral microbes – the microbes, including bacteria, fungi, and even some viruses, that live in our mouths.
Just as microbes ferment grapes and turn them into wine (and in a wealth of mouthwatering aromas), they do similar things with the food in our mouths.
Did you know?
Details of calories listed on food labels are not as accurate as you think.
For example, take almonds, as research has shown that they provide 30 percent fewer calories than stated.
I’ll explain what’s going on in the column next week.
Research shows that almonds provide 30 percent fewer calories than stated
The many different flavors of wine are not only due to the different types of grapes but also to the types of microbes that do the fermentation.
Likewise, it is the difference in our oral microbiome that probably explains at least some of the differences in taste perception between people. Different mouth microbes produce different odors when we eat the same food, such as vegetables.
The good news is that through diet, we can change what lives in our mouths, and thus some of the flavors produced.
This reinforces what I see in the clinic over and over again: Changing our diet changes our preferences, too.
The bottom line is that even if you don’t currently enjoy the flavor of fruits and veggies, you will. You just have to get started! And if that means getting it into your diet for the first few weeks, until your taste buds get close to the idea, I’m all for it.
But what about the cost of fruits and vegetables? It’s another common barrier that prevents people from eating more of them — and when processed foods are so cheap, and the cost of living skyrockets, fresh produce can seem pricey.
Ways to get around this include buying in season (and if possible, buying in bulk and then freezing).
And don’t ignore frozen fruits and veggies—they’re packed with nutrients as they’re frozen when they’re picked. Low-priced products at the end of the day are still packed with fiber and nutrients. In some cases, it may contain more nutrients than when it hits the shelf. Research in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry showed that levels of anthocyanins (plant chemicals with antioxidant powers) increased in blackberries as they switched from underripe to overripe.
And don’t forget canned tomatoes, olives, pickles, artichokes, beans, and pulses (but check the label for no added sugar or salt).
You’ll notice that I don’t say “you should get five a day”.
That’s because the most important message is variety – try to expand the range of plant-based foods you eat, because that way you’ll get the widest range of polyphenols, plant compounds with antioxidant powers (which help fight disease and help you feel and look great – yes, done). Polyphenols have also been linked to reduced facial wrinkles.
Here are some delicious ways to add more fruit and vegetables without noticing the difference in flavor. Trust me, they work!
- Juice lover? Add a few frozen cauliflower florets (you can get these precooked and frozen at most supermarkets). They are rich in sulforaphane, which has proven anti-cancer benefits (in animal studies). It also gives juice a deliciously creamy texture – you won’t even taste it.
- No soup or casserole should be complete without adding other vegetables. Get in the habit of adding any wilted or bruised vegetables to preserve your wallet and the environment.
- For Mac and Cheese Lovers: Mash 1 cup cooked squash into the sauce. In addition to providing fiber, the beta-carotene in squash supports immune function.
- Add a can of lentils to your bolognese mix – the family won’t even know! (For a little more flair, mix the lentils first.) This will give your meal a boost of prebiotics, which “good” gut bacteria love to feast on.
- Grate half a zucchini into an omelette or scrambled eggs – this will not affect the joy of the eggs.
- When baking muffins, grate the carrots and reduce the liquid by about 1/3 cup. The extra fiber can help lower high blood sugar.
- At Friday Night Pizza (whether you order it or make your own), chop up fresh tomatoes for some skin-loving lycopene and vitamin C.
- For pasta carbonara, cut the cream in half and mix with an equivalent weight of tofu (available at most supermarkets). Tofu, made from fermented soybeans, contains phytoestrogens, which have been linked to a reduced risk of breast cancer — and provides a lovely silky texture.
- Add a cup of frozen vegetables or half a can of lentils to your next Indian takeaway for an extra 6 grams of fibre. After a few months of training, my husband does it automatically. Proud wife of the moment.
- Grate carrots and sprinkle walnuts into the porridge for a delicious carrot cake flavor, plus added fiber and omega-3s for a healthy heart.
- Replace half of the oil or butter in your next cake with cooked apples of a similar weight.
- Add a little flavor and fiber to your next summer salad with some goji berries, cranberries, or pomegranate seeds.
Try this: Fruit and Vegetable Pie
In addition to eating extra fruits and vegetables, each serving of these muffins will provide about 6 grams of fiber (one fifth of your daily needs).
makes 8 (serves 2)
- 3 large eggs
- 1 ripe banana (100g approx)
- 50 grams of oats
- 100gm cooked sweet potato
- Oil of your choice for frying
Put eggs, bananas, oats, and potatoes in a blender. Wash it for 1-2 minutes until it is soft and slightly foamy on top. Next, heat a large frying pan with olive oil over low heat, and put about 60ml of the mixture for each pancake with the spoon. Cook over low heat for 2-3 minutes or until the top of the pie begins to appear bubbling and dry around the edges—now ready to be flipped. Cook on the other side for a few minutes. Enjoy extras of your choice.
I read with interest your last column where you suggested avoiding sugarless gum due to the sugar alcohols in it. I usually have sugar free gum after meals because I have type 2 diabetes. What would you recommend instead?
Tiam Boh, via email.
If you suffer from bloating, avoiding sugar alcohols like sorbitol, xylitol, and mannitol is worth trying for a couple of weeks to see if the bloating improves.
This is because sugar alcohols don’t digest well in our upper intestines, and as a result bacteria ferment them in our lower intestines, which can produce extra gas.
Instead of chewing gum, I recommend brushing your teeth quickly after meals. Chewing gum can also increase the appetite of some people by stimulating gastric juices.
So if you find yourself hungry within a few hours after meals, avoid chewing gum and see if you notice a decrease in your appetite.
However, if bloating isn’t a problem for you and isn’t having a negative effect on your appetite, chewing gum that contains sugar alcohols is perfectly fine (many plant foods, such as sweet potatoes and asparagus, contain these as well) and can help. In preventing the growth of cavity-forming bacteria.
Contact Dr Megan Rossi: email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Good Health, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT – please include contact details. Dr. Megan Rossi cannot enter into personal correspondence. Responses should be taken in a general context; Always consult your doctor about any health concerns.