“I am addicted to sugar,” I told friends the other day as I reached for the dessert menu. “We are all addicted to sugar,” someone responded. “Not Kaya,” was my comeback, “but Kaya grew up in Sweden!”
Recently scientists in South Africa found that baby food products – like cereals, pureed fruits and desserts – aimed at babies under 12 months old have added sugar. (Read the article here). This is bad news for the future health of South Africa’s population because it encourages a “sweet tooth” in children – in other words, a preference for foods that taste sweet or sugary, for the rest of their lives, the scientists said.
After some research into sugar cravings, its causes and the desire for unhealthy foods, it seems the solution is to reset the taste buds. Our food preferences have a lot to do with our taste buds, whose normal life cycle is anything between 10 days to two weeks. In that time you can re-train your taste buds’ cravings for processed foods – high in sugar, salt and fats – to lust after healthy foods. When you do introduce processed foods again, the flavour is more distinct than before.
Specialised taste receptors inside the taste buds send messages to the brain, allowing us to distinguish sweet, salty, sour and bitter, as well as a possible fifth taste called umami. And you don’t just have taste buds on your tongue – they’re everywhere, from the roof of your mouth to your throat and stomach. So how do you let all of them know that healthy is better? Here’s an easy-to-follow “training programme” based on recommendations from Eat Like You Give a Fork: The Real Dish on Eating To Thrive by Mareya Ibrahim:
- Make non-starchy vegetables the basis of every plate of food.
- In the morning, start with protein and fat and avoid sugary foods, to stabilise your blood sugar. This can include egg dishes, chia seed pudding (yes, you can have pudding for breakfast!), or smoothies made with mostly green veggies and a handful of low-glycemic fruits like berries and apples.
- Combine protein, fat and complex carbs in every meal, focusing on bitter, sour, and umami flavours.
- Eat smaller reconditioning meals every three to four hours to keep your energy high, rev your metabolism and sustain your blood sugar so you never feel hungry.
- Enjoy at least one raw or mostly raw meal a day to get the maximum benefit from nutrients, enzymes and probiotics.
- Give full focus to your food. Sit down, put aside the technology and eat slowly, tasting every bite. This is the time to fall in love with flavour again.
Gradually cutting down on unhealthy and highly processed foods has been reported to be the best possible way of resetting one’s taste buds. Going cold turkey is not advisable as this might lead to bingeing at a later stage. Also, to avoid temptation, clear away “the stash” cupboard so that the effort to leave the house for chocolate or sweets seems too overwhelming. Another tip is exercise. Research shows that exercise starts a chain reaction that lowers one’s desire for high-calorie and unhealthy foods.
Finally, we recommend that you pack your fridge with seasonal fresh produce and herbs and cook your own meals. This ensures that you cut out added sugars, salt and fats in store-bought meals, thus eliminating processed foods in your daily diet. Also, try and incorporate 5 to 10 portions of varied coloured fruits and vegetables per day. Don’t forget we deliver organic produce in and around Johannesburg – order here!
Don’t underestimate the power of habit… Practice makes perfect! Good luck.