Science Says You Can Trick Your Taste Buds Into Craving Healthy Foods

Updated 05/09/19
Kale Salad
The Modern Proper

Taste buds might determine what foods taste delicious to you and which end up politely spit out in a napkin, but a new study proves that it's possible to physically alter the way you taste certain foods—specifically those pesky bitter ones that can be hard to swallow but offer so many health benefits. Think antioxidant-rich dark chocolate, vitamin-packed radicchio, and nutrient-loaded dandelion greens.

Researchers at Purdue University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently found that the proteins in saliva connected to flavor can be modified by eating bitter foods. Throughout the course of the study, researchers asked participants to drink chocolate almond milk three times a day for a week and rate its bitterness (cocoa is a naturally bitter ingredient if left unsweetened).

After the participants consumed the milk, researchers found that the protein composition of their saliva had changed and was comprised of more proline-rich proteins known to bind the sharp flavor compounds in chocolate. As these proteins increased, the participants noted that the milk was less bitter. Essentially, they found that the more bitter foods you eat, the more you'll enjoy the way they taste and want to add more of them to your diet.

"By changing your diet, you might be able to change your flavor experience of foods that at one point tasted nasty to you," according to Cordelia A. Running, PhD, in a press release about the study.

This is big news for anyone who avoids bitter vegetables due to their harsh taste, especially when so many can be beneficial to the body. Charles Passler, MD, (nutritionist to the likes of Bella Hadid and Adriana Lima) tells MindBodyGreen that bitter veggies can do wonders for your digestive system. They activate cells in the stomach that aid acid, bile, and digestive enzyme production, which all boost digestion and can help detoxify the liver. Ready to train your taste buds to crave these good-for-you bitter foods?

Start by adding these items to your grocery list. 

Dandelion Greens

Dandelion Greens
The First Mess

Dandelion greens are a great source of folate, magnesium, and dietary fiber. They're also packed with vitamins A, C, E, K, and B6. Throw them in a homemade soup, sautée them for a side dish, or toss them in a smoothie.

Dark Chocolate

Dark Chocolate
Minimalist Baker

Dark chocolate is known for its antioxidant properties. It's also thought to reduce heart disease risk, improve brain function, and protect your skin from sun damage. Indulge in a square or two at night for a healthy treat.

Broccoli Rabe

Broccoli Rabe
The First Mess

Just a small serving of broccoli rabe provides over half of your daily recommended amount of vitamins A and C. It's also a good source of folate and is full of free radical–fighting antioxidants.

Arugula

Arugula
The Modern Proper

Mix up an arugula salad to reap the benefits of this nutrient-rich green. It contains calcium, potassium, folate, and vitamins C, K, and A.

Kale

Kale
Half Baked Harvest

This superfood will give you a healthy dose of protein, fiber, vitamins A, C, K, folate, and omega-3 fatty acids. Toss it in a salad or sautée it on the stove with seasonings for a nutritious side.

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