If you’re new to eating healthy, that phrase may bring to mind an unappetizing image of a boring plate of salad topped with grilled chicken next to a piece of fruit. It’s what you might scoff at as “rabbit food.”
Yes, foods like fruits, veggies, protein, and whole grains are part of a balanced, healthy diet, but that doesn’t mean you’re stuck with plain oatmeal and a banana for breakfast every day.
(Pro tip: A daily Shakeology is an easy, delicious way to jazz up your morning meal.
Whole foods can act as a blank canvas for exciting flavors and textures; it’s all about targeting your senses by maximizing the deliciousness of your healthy meals, so you’ll want to eat them again and again.
First, let’s explore these senses and how they affect your eating experience.
How Your Senses Affect Your Eating Experience
Taste is crucial to appreciating food. You have 10,000 taste buds that are evolutionarily wired to like sweet, salty, and rich (aka, fatty) foods because they contain lots of calories and nutrients compatible with survival.
A study by Yale researchers found that mice genetically bred without the ability to taste sweetness don’t prefer sugar water any more than plain water at first.
After a few days they learned to prefer the sugar water, likely because it contained a prized reward: calories. Drinking the sugar water also prompted the release of dopamine, which plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior of the brain.
True, humans are more complex than mice, but this experiment indicates it’s possible for taste preferences to be rewired.
Smell works closely with taste to create flavor. There are five tastes (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, umami), but there are thousands of smells to help you recognize what you’re eating.
Smell may also help your brain decide if it should burn or store calories. An experiment by UC Berkeley researchers found that mice who had their smelling abilities removed could stay trim while eating a high-fat diet, despite eating the same amount as mice with normal smelling abilities.
1. Go for full-flavored salads
Does it bother you to see a 500-calorie salad, but you don’t blink an eye at an 800-calorie cheeseburger? If so, it’s time to dash that double standard.
A healthy, satiating salad with protein, tons of veggies, flavorful toppings, and a light dressing can provide you with essential nutrients and satisfy all your senses.
While it may sound counterintuitive to add calories just to get you to eat your veggies, it’s entirely possible to jazz them up without sabotaging your weight-loss goals. Be smart about what you’re adding: skip calorie bombs like candied nuts, watch portion sizes, and use spices to add flavor and depth.
2. Try a new cooking technique
You know the healthy cooking drill: baked chicken, broiled fish, and hard-boiled eggs ad nauseum.
Switch things up and experiment with new cooking techniques so you can make mouthwatering meals like this Hawaiian Salmon, which uses oven-poaching to keep the fish moist and flavorful.
Different cooking techniques create different smell and flavor compounds that can enhance the taste of food.
3. Be BFFs with your pantry
Salt and pepper alone won’t cut it. You have to learn how to flavor with herbs and spices if you want to whip up tasty meals. These flavor agents give ingredients their cuisine identity.
Plain Jane chicken, for example, can turn Italian with rosemary and oregano, or Asian with soy sauce and ginger. Beginner cooks may get overwhelmed by all the variety, so here are few herbs, spices, and blends to get you started:
Savory: chili powder, curry powder, rosemary, thyme, paprika, cayenne pepper, oregano.
Sweet: cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla extract, cocoa powder.
4. Add some zest to your dish
Squeeze lemon or lime juice over a savory dish to brighten and enhance its flavor, no extra salt needed!
Use lemon in place of vinegar in marinades and salad dressings. Invest in a zester so you can work the fragrant lemon peel into meat dishes and dessert. Mouthwatering Lemon Garlic Chicken Thighs? Yass!
5. Pretty-up your meals
Plate your food in a way that piques your appetite. Use a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to add color and (nutrition!) to your meal.
Get creative with presentation and make Sweet Potato Egg Cups for a convenient breakfast, mason jar salads for Instagram-ready lunches, and Turkey Lettuce Wraps for dinner.