The National Nutrition Month® (NNM) is a nutrition education campaign sponsored annually by the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and its Foundation.
In support of this campaign, this month, we are encouraging you to make the most out of your meals while focusing on nutrition and taste, not just one or the other. Making informed food choices and including flavorful foods promotes sustainable healthy living, unlike crash dieting. Rather than forcing yourself to eat something because it is healthy, strive to find foods that satisfy your taste buds and nourish your body. Unfortunately, many of us favor fast food and packaged goods, so the two choices are not mutually exclusive. Today I’ll share some tips on how you can enjoy the taste of healthy eating.
- Purify your palate. Overconsumption of processed foods may prevent you from appreciating subtle flavors in whole foods. Fortunately, it is possible to retrain your taste buds. The more you eat something, the more you crave it. Eliminating all processed foods from your diet is not necessary to develop a taste for healthier foods and is not realistic for most. Instead of feeling like you have to remove foods from your eating plan, focus on adding healthy foods in addition to the ones you’re eating. A good start would be adding more vegetables to your meals and focusing on lean protein. Don’t mask the taste of these foods with salt or butter – instead try to enhance the flavor using herbs and spices. Be patient and remember that you will have to expose yourself to new flavors over and over in order to develop a preference for them. Try to pair new foods with foods you already like to increase the enjoyment of the meal.
- Meet yourself halfway. Many people change too much, too quickly when trying to eat healthier. This does not allow to you to adjust to new tastes can be counterproductive because you feel deprived and revert to your old way of eating. If you’re used to dining out for every meal or eating on the go, it’s going to be challenging to suddenly prepare every meal and snack from scratch. While eating whole, unprocessed foods may seem ideal, it is another extreme. Remember that you don’t have to be on either end of the spectrum and you can find nutritious foods that are tasty and convenient. Meal replacements, such as Medifast, are a great option since they are pre-portioned and portable. Other options are 100-calorie packs of nuts or guacamole, packets of squeezable peanut butter or yogurt, string cheese, and vegetables and fruits that require minimal preparation, like baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, celery hearts, bananas, apples, pears, etc. If you’re trying to eat healthier varieties of food, mix them with the ones you’re used to eating and gradually increase the amount. For example, mix white rice with brown rice, white pasta with whole wheat pasta, skim milk with whole or 2%, 99% fat-free ground meat with full fat, butter with olive oil, etc.
- Patrol you pantry. Stock your kitchen with the food you want to eat more of, and limit the availability of those you don’t. Read nutrition labels to compare products and choose the best option. Remember that you can always add to a food, but you can’t remove what’s already in it. Try to choose foods that don’t have a lot of salt or sugar added, and add your own if you need to so you can control the amount. Choose unsweetened cereals and yogurts and sweeten them with fresh or dried fruit. Instead of using high-sodium condiments while cooking, taste your food after it’s done and adjust the flavor accordingly. Keep healthy, convenient foods on hand so when you’re in a rush or find yourself in a situation where you’re surrounded by tempting food, you can be prepared to satisfy your hunger in a healthier way.
- Be a foodist. It’s okay to discriminate when it comes to your food. Choose the freshest, most flavorful foods you can find. Many people think they don’t like fruits and vegetables because the produce they find is picked too soon, has traveled many miles, and lacks any flavor. Choose produce that is in season and locally grown for maximum flavor. If the produce you find doesn’t seem ripe, simply store it in a paper bag with other fruits and vegetables to hasten ripening. Ensure that you are storing produce appropriately as well. Apples and tomatoes, for example, are best stored at room temperature. If you’re new to eating fish, choose fish that hasn’t been frozen and rethawed for optimal texture, and keep in mind that farm-raised salmon tends to have a milder taste than wild-caught. Similarly, if you want the most flavor from your fish, wild-caught is the way to go, and you may also receive more omega-3 fatty acids.
- Redefine cooking. Creating healthy meals doesn’t have to include a messy apron or hours slaving over the stove. You can assemble healthy dishes without even turning on your oven. Throw some spinach, frozen fruit, and Greek yogurt into a blender and you’ve got breakfast in minutes. Enjoy crudité with hummus or fruit with nut butter for a balanced snack. Wrap deli meat or canned tuna in a lettuce leaf for lunch on the go. You can also take one day a week to prepare foods so that they are ready to throw together. Fill your fridge with cut and washed vegetables in Ziploc bags, grilled chicken breast, hardboiled eggs, and cooked grains for endless salad combinations. You can even bake oatmeal in muffin tins so you have breakfast ready to grab as you head out the door.
- Less is more. Another way to feel satisfied with fewer calories may be to limit flavors within meals. Flavor variety within meals can actually stimulate the appetite, so you’re more likely to overeat. This is true of many packaged foods, such as a sugary breakfast cereal with salty nuts or a spicy pasta sauce full of sugar. Don’t use different sauces, marinades, and dressings when you’re preparing meals. Instead, try to harmonize the flavors on your plate. For example, if you’re marinating chicken breast with lemon juice, have citrus vinaigrette with your salad and add some lemon zest to your grains.
- Barter for balance. You don’t have to change everything you eat or give up your favorite foods. You can find healthier alternatives to high-calorie foods and still find them acceptable. The Medifast Brownie or Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough bar are great substitutes for other desserts, but are low in calories and full or protein and fiber. If you’re having a hard time giving up soda, try mixing the Essential1 flavor infusers with sparkling water. If you like to use oil to sauté foods, try flavorful chicken or vegetable broth instead. Use mashed avocado, tahini, or non-fat Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise. For healthier baking, use applesauce or crushed pineapple to add moisture when reducing oil, use whole-wheat, almond, or coconut flour for added fiber, and try replacing some of the sugar with a non-nutritive sweetener. If you prefer natural sweeteners, experiment with stevia or monk fruit extract. And for those days when a substitute won’t do, just remember to indulge in moderation and practice proper portion control. If you’re tempted to enjoy your steak with a glass of red wine followed by a slice of flourless cake, choose one or the other, not both.
- Consider factors other than taste. Taste preference isn’t just about taste. Other senses also play a role in the enjoyment of food. Ensure that your food is visually appealing, has an enticing aroma, and has a satisfying texture. Overcooked broccoli doesn’t just taste bad, it also doesn’t satisfy these other sensory cues. If you don’t like the smell of cooked broccoli, embrace it raw by making it into a colorful, crunchy, and odorless slaw. Culture and experience also influence the palate response. Comfort foods have a positive association, and that’s why we crave them. Include healthy dishes in your memorable moments, and you’ll long for them as well. Expose your family, friends, and even coworkers to healthy foods. Ensuring that these foods are available, accessible, and consumed by peers will make it easier for eating them to become a habit rather than an effort.
Healthy living encompasses wholesome eating as well as regular physical activity. Just as it’s easier to eat healthy if you enjoy the taste, it’s easier to move more if you like the activity. Find an activity that’s fun and practical to complement your healthy meal plan.