It can be difficult to eat more nutritiously when you’re used to eating primarily processed foods. A palate that is used to highly processed foods—sweetened, added salt, high fat—can sabotage even the best attempts at eating healthier. One study even found that foods high in sugar and fat are addictive. In the study, brain scans showed that these foods act like heroin or morphine, basically making you chemically addicted.
So, like quitting smoking or another addictive substance, altering highly corrupted taste buds can be a challenge. Going cold turkey might work for some, but most people, it’s a matter of learning to cook fresh and forgoing all the added extras.
One way to start is by unmasking your food. Look at all the extra processed ingredients that you’re adding to an otherwise healthy dish. Here are some ideas for weaning yourself off all the processed extras and giving your palate a chance to taste the real flavors of food.
Vegetables. So often, people want to cover up the taste of veggies with processed cheese spread or by breading and deep-frying them in unhealthy oil. Instead, try drizzling on a little olive oil, or a pat of butter and then sprinkling on some favorite spices. Some of those I stock in my kitchen include basil, garlic, rosemary, pepper, thyme, chive, oregano, chili powder, cinnamon, ginger, mustard, paprika, nutmeg, and parsley. Use these on your roasted or steamed veggies and you’ll have a nutritious—and very delicious—side or main dish. And skip the candied veggies altogether. Veggies like carrots and sweet potatoes actually taste great to a retrained palate—no need to “candy” them with a lot butter, brown sugar, and marshmallows.
Meat and fish. Instead of all the dipping sauces, gravies, and breading, try cooking your meat and fish with just a few spices. Black pepper, paprika, garlic, thyme, oregano, and parsley can add a touch of flavor to any meat. Mustard is known for bringing out the flavor in beef, such as roasts. Fish is delicious when baked in foil with a squeeze of lemon and dressed with slices of red or green pepper and onion. And while rubs make any grilled meat a taste treat, check the label for added sodium and sugars. Yes, it can be tough to pass on the breaded and fried chicken, but just try roasting one with some herbs and spices once in a while and your palate will begin to appreciate the lighter fare.
Fruits. It’s amazing how many recipes call for adding sugar to already sweet ingredients like fruit. Baked or pan-fried apples or pears are a delicious side dish for any meal. Instead of adding loads of butter and sugar, try placing sliced apples or halved pears on a cookie sheet and roasting them in the oven or frying them in a nonstick skillet. Cooking them in this manner releases the juices that can even caramelize on their own without adding sugar.
Every day, I talk with patients about the ill effects of processed food. I know it can tough to retrain your palate. It’s not something that most people can do overnight. But take away all the extras you add to your food and you’ll find underneath some very tasty flavors all on their own.