Training Your Tastebuds: Learn to Love Healthy Foods

If you’d rather eat chocolate than Brussels sprouts, you’re not alone. (Ed. note: chocolate is delicious.)

Still, how do you choose healthy foods if your taste buds revolt every time you see green?

Lucky for us, psychologists and food scientists alike have been hard at work uncovering the mysteries of what tastes good and why - which means changing how you eat is now easier than ever.

Here are six expert tips for training your tastebuds to love healthy eats - without using chocolate as a bribe or buffer:

1. Let It Go

Remember how much you hated broccoli as a kid? Yeah, you’re going to have to get past that, says registered dietitian Georgie Fear.

"Your taste buds are more sensitive to bitter flavors when you're a kid," Fear told Prevention. That means your adult taste buds could actually like peas. Go figure.

2. Take It Slow

Human beings only have so much willpower. So if you’re dead set against eating certain veggies, changing your diet in one fell swoop is likely to sap all the willpower right out of you.

Instead, try making just a few changes at a time, so your tastebuds can acclimate to the new flavors.

Pick one new vegetable to try every week, pairing it with other foods that are comforting, familiar, and - yes - healthy.

Balancing new with old will help you baby-step your way to more adventurous menus in the future.

Here are 29 more tips from BuzzFeed to help you shake up your routine.

3. Change It Up

Distaste for all things green usually stems from our natural aversion to bitter flavors. This is an evolutionary response, explains biopsychologist Gary Beauchamp.

"Past the age of 2 of 3, most mothers will find that their kids won't eat the healthy foods they introduce for the first time," Beauchamp told U.S. News & World Report.

"In our evolutionary history, this is the time of life when children began to move away from their mother and feed themselves. They needed to be wary of new foods, especially bitter ones, to survive."

You can overcome this natural aversion to bitter flavors by distracting your tastebuds from the taste of the veggies you have the hardest time swallowing.

At Eating Well, Lisa Gosselin suggests soaking broccoli in sugar-water to tempt picky kids (or stubborn adults).

Meanwhile, at Prevention, Marygrace Taylor points out that roasting veggies “bring[s] out their natural sweetness.” Time to turn up those oven temps!

And if sugar doesn’t quite float your boat, consider a high-calorie addition like cheese, butter, or olive oil to help make the medicine go down.

4. Try It Again...And Again

Children who give their parents a hard time about eating their veggies may need to be exposed to the new food between 10 and 20 times before they’ll consider eating something green.

One 2010 study cited by The Guardian found that after “nine or 10 tries...the children said they liked the veg. Some even ticked the ‘like a lot’ box.”

If this strategy works on kids, it’ll probably work on a finicky adult eater, too - as long as they’re willing to keep trying those Brussels sprouts down the road.

5. Make a Pretty Plate

We joke about having eyes bigger than our stomach - but we don’t often talk about how food works on all of our senses.

It turns out we’re more likely to enjoy the foods on our plate if the colors of our foods are satisfying or they complement one another. The same goes for the color of our dinnerware, says Oxford psychologist Charles Spence.

If you’re struggling to eat more fruits and vegetables, just remember that your appetite will reward you for adding more vibrant color to your plate.

6. Compare Your Options

For the truly brave, we recommend Guardian food writer Amy Fleming’s suggestion: become an expert in the vegetable you’d rather avoid.

“You might notice that spinach is less bitter and has a soft mouth feel compared with kale, which is more tough and fibrous,” writes Fleming.

“Suddenly you're appreciating nuances in foods you previously only tolerated.”

At the very least, you’ll be able to identify which veggies work for you - and which you’ll have to put in the “try again...someday” pile.

Whether you need to make a few tweaks or majorly overhaul your diet for 2017, you can conquer the world of kale smoothies and - yes - even Brussels sprouts.

With consistent exposure and training, your tastebuds will never know what hit them. As for finally ditching chocolate for good? Well, we’re not about to make any promises.

How do you incorporate new veggies into your diet? Tell us what helps you get over your distaste of green things in the comments below:

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