Taste buds-can they adapt?

I was asked to speak on this topic this week on More FM. Why do we love or hate certain foods and can we train ourselves to like things?


Yes our taste buds adapt. Think about a little baby who eats bland veges and fruit every day and LOVES it. Their taste buds are tuned to enjoy food in its whole, natural form. As we get older we are exposed to salt, sugar, and processed foods which our taste buds start to enjoy and want more of. Now as adults- we might be piling the salt and sugar on to your food thinking that we hate the flavour without these things- but really all we have done is train ourselves to prefer these flavours.


Often I work with clients who want to reduce their blood pressure or blood glucose levels. The intervention here includes a reduction in salt and sugar. Often people say- "but I have a sweet tooth!" or "I can't stand food without loads of salt!", however after cutting it out for a week- they forget all about the salt and sugar.


It's the same with spicy food- if we were never given spice as children then we aren't familiar with this and our taste buds haven't adapted to it. If you start to eat more spice now- then you will likely start to tolerate it and enjoy it more and more.


The other thing to note here is that as we age the cells in our taste buds lose their ability to regenerate. For this reason we often end up wanting more flavour because we simply can't taste much of what's in our food. In this instance- add spices and herbs like garlic, chilli, and chives.


In terms of liking certain foods- often we like what we are familiar with and what we associate with positive memories and feelings of comfort. If we are forced to eat brussel sprouts as a child and our memory of them includes stress and fear then we are probably not going to enjoy them now as adults! It's important to remember this too when we are feeding our children as creating fear and stress around dinner times is unhelpful for our fussy eaters.


If you are battling with a sweet tooth then see how you go without sugar for a couple of weeks! You might surprise yourself!




ALEXANDRA TULLY- PALMERSTON NORTH DIETITIAN- PALMERSTON NORTH & CENTRAL HAWKES BAY COOKING CLASSES, NZ