Monday, January 2, 2012

What Going Vegan Has Taught Me.... Tastebuds Change

It's a brand new year and many people will have made resolutions to eat better, get healthy and reach their fitness goals. 

So, today's blog post is about taste. We all have five areas of taste - sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami.

Our tongues have specific areas on it with certain flavor receptors. As babies, we have taste buds all over our mouths, even on the cheeks and roof which is why our tastes change as we get older. The foods that were too strong for you as a child, often become favorite foods as you age and your taste buds change.

I'm certain everyone knows what sweet, salty, bitter and sour are but you may not be familiar with umami. Umami is pleasant savory taste imparted by glutamate, an amino acid that occurs naturally in many foods. The umami taste sensation is when 'ingredients mixed together surpasses the taste of each one alone.' The umami experience is most often associated with Japanese foods.

When you move toward a plant based diet, you will need to allow for your tastes to change. It will take about a month for your tastes to make the gradual movement towards what tastes good to you once you give up refined sugar and carbs, processed foods, fatty dairy and animal proteins.

One example that most people can understand and have experienced is the change from whole milk to skim milk. The first time you had skim milk it probably had the consistency and taste of water. If you went back to drinking whole milk it would be like drinking a thick and heavy cream. Why? Your taste buds and flavor receptors changed.

Of course, texture, aroma, color, shape, the sound a food makes, sight, frequency and temperature can all play a part in whether food is pleasant or unpleasant to each individual. Think about some foods you like and some food you dislike and think about why you like or dislike them specifically.

I happen to really hate green peppers. I find them to be very bitter and the flavor is overwhelming to me in any food it comes into contact with. I can't even pick them out and still eat the food. The taste completely ruins it for me. Cranberries are the same way. I find them overly bitter and tart.

When you switch to a plant based whole foods diet, your taste buds need to adjust to that change. You will be used to overly sweetened, overly salted, overly fat foods and fresh whole foods may taste bland or bitter at first. Please give it a month before you decide you don't like something. Start making a list of things that you don't like and revisit them a couple months later.

When I decided to cut out certain things, I had to meet this test head on!  I'll give you some examples:

1. When I first gave up refined sugar I had to learn to love oatmeal without a couple tablespoons of brown sugar! The first few weeks were sheer hell for me. I was eating it almost everyday and I was not enjoying it until I figured out that a dollop of nut butter or a diced banana mixed into my oatmeal made it naturally sweet. Now I enjoy my oatmeal that way instead of adding any type of sweetener.

2. Like everyone, I used to slather my pancakes with 'butter' and when I started eating plant foods I still used an oil based spread like a margarine on my pancakes and then I decided to refine my eating habits and that was one area where I could eliminate the unnecessary oil. I use fresh fruit, nuts and a little maple syrup on my pancakes and I don't miss the 'butter' at all.

3. Since going vegan I try and stick to high quality dark chocolate but a few times a year I'll treat myself to some Godiva truffles that are coated in milk chocolate. A few weeks after going vegan I decided to eat a little mini size Kit Kat bar. I took one bite of that, with it's low quality, sugary milk chocolate and I spit it out! It was so gross tasting. My taste buds had become used to the rich and quality flavor of dark chocolate and they couldn't handle the cheap stuff.

4. Not long after going vegetarian back in 2003, I tried the Tofurky deli slices and I thought they were quite possibly the most vile food ever. Now, I love them and I eat them a few times a week. I realize now that I shouldn't have tried to go from animal lunch meat to soy slices immediately. My palate needed time to adjust itself and to get the animal proteins out of my body. The same thing can happen to people that try to go from animal based dairy products to vegan non-dairy products.

After a month of not eating (or cutting back on) things like sugar, fat, dairy, and animal proteins, you will find that your taste buds will reject the flavors you had come to crave. The truth is 'whatever you ate yesterday is what you'll crave today' and I don't mean specific foods... I mean the things like fat, sugar, alcohol and crappy foods.

If you have a day where you eat anything and everything then the next day you should concentrate hard on eating really healthy and quality foods or you could end up in a downward spiral that you can't get out of.

This is so true because I've experienced it myself. If I have a few of my husbands french fries then I will want french fries for days afterwards. If I have a few cookies at Christmas then I crave sugar for a week. Those foods are addicting and that is why you need to be aware of what you're putting into your body and start putting better quality things into it. I also crave veggies and beans and those are cravings I love to indulge!

You'll start craving good foods if you eat them and you will come to enjoy being able to eat and eat and eat when you are eating whole foods that are nothing but good for you. Eating without guilt is an amazing feeling. Even tho I'd like to lose another 10 pounds,  I've maintained the same weight for over a year by simply not eating crap. I don't think much about it.

You'll also discover that once you start eating good foods the bad foods will effect you when you do eat them. Too much sugar will cloud your thinking and make you head for a nap, animal proteins and dairy foods will lead to intestinal and stomach upset, and fast or overly processed foods will just make you feel like crap!


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  2. Thank you for this insightful article. I had already been experiencing the same.