When I was a nutrition student in college, I learned the value of eating nutrient dense foods like dark greens. Yet the strong flavors of turnip, mustard and collard greens were too much for me to appreciate. Just knowing that they were good for me was not enough to induce me to eat them. While working my way through college in a hospital kitchen, greens were a staple in the cafeteria. Many early mornings, I would be mopping the floor and the aroma of cooking collard greens filled the air. As lunch time approached, the fresh baked cornbread and yeast rolls would be coming out of the oven. And I found myself more willing to try these objectionable greens.
That is when my palate began to develop. It started with the olfactory senses which include smell and taste. By smelling the greens cooking, I was unknowingly getting used to them and my palate was adapting to the exposure. The next thing I knew, I was trying the greens. At first, I could tolerate a bite of greens with a bite of bread. With repeated exposure, my palate developed further and I began to like greens. Today collards, the strongest flavored greens are my favorite.
This is no secret to wine drinkers. After drinking milder tasting wines, the palate develops and we begin trying wines with more bold flavors. The same is true for beer drinkers. Did you like the first beer you tasted? Most would say no. Our palates get used to what they are exposed to.
This phenomenon of a changing palate has direct application to improving our nutrition intake. For those who are still drinking whole milk and object to the taste of skim milk, a positive change begins with a decision to reduce our cholesterol and saturated fat intake. There are many good reasons to drink milk, a good source of protein and a compliment of minerals that lower blood pressure. But whole milk has lots of artery clogging fat and cholesterol. Make the change easy by initially switching to 2%. Then, after a week or two, change to 1% and then skim. After repeated exposures to skim milk your palate will develop to the point where you prefer it. (A cup of whole milk has twice as many calories as a cup of skim milk.) This is how we make gradual changes in our diet to improve our health.
There are hundreds of examples. Get your palate used to drinking unsweetened tea. You will be saving anywhere from a 140 – 250 calories depending on the size of your glass. This change alone might help you to maintain a healthy weight and not develop hypertension or type 2 diabetes as you age.
Try dark chocolate. It is packed with health promoting flavonoids and healthy fats that lower cholesterol, dilate our blood vessels and improve blood pressure. Start with chocolate that has 60% cacao and work up to 70% cacao. Compared to milk chocolate, this chocolate will be bitter to you at first. Try a small square at a time with a few almonds (Same trick as the bite of bread with a bite of greens). A one inch square is enough to provide health benefits. I like a little skim milk with my dark chocolate and almonds. Some things in life are worth developing our palate for!
Tim Scallon is a registered dietitian and Director of Clinical Nutrition and the HC Polk Education Center at Memorial Health System in Lufkin. The Polk Center provides individual and group education on diabetes, heart disease and stroke; monthly classes on healthy cooking; and monthly support groups in Lufkin and Livingston. In cooperation with Sodexo Food Service and the City of Lufkin, the Polk Center produces the nationally viewed TV series Memorial Cooking Innovations where dietitian Tim Scallon teams up with Chef Manuel Marini to demonstrate how healthy eating can taste great. The show can be seen on cable in 46 cities and on the Memorial web site at http://www.memorialhealth.org. Call 639-7585 for more information.