Health & Wellness

Don’t Give Up on Kale!

The more you eat healthy food, the better it tastes

Photo: iStock/ThitareeSarmkasat.

If you’re trying to eat a healthy diet but find that you just can’t stand the taste of kale or other bitter greens, be patient—your taste buds will get used to it. That’s because your perception of how bitter vegetables taste actually changes over time.

It’s not all in your head. US researchers reported in July that the proteins in your saliva alter after being introduced to new foods. Their findings were based on trials involving rats that provided an opportunity to more accurately study how taste buds react when trying new foods for the first time.

“What you eat creates the signature in your salivary proteins, and those proteins modulate your sense of taste,” explained Ann-Marie Torregrossa, the associate director of the University at Buffalo’s Center for Ingestive Behavior Research, in a statement. “If we can convince people to try broccoli, greens, and bitter foods, they should know that with repeated exposure, they’ll taste better once they regulate these proteins.”

The findings help explain why children are often such picky eaters, especially when it comes to eating vegetables. The sooner and more often vegetables are introduced into their diet, the more likely healthy eating will become natural in adulthood, an important consideration given the rise of obesity in the Western world.

Researchers theorize this mechanism provided an evolutionary advantage when humans had to forage for food and eat unfamiliar plants. Poisonous foods often taste bitter, so it makes sense we’d be wary of healthy foods that upon first impression tasted poisonous. Those whose saliva adapted to enjoy these foods would have had more food at their disposal and a better chance of surviving.