Can healthy food be tasty?

January 6, 2021

Ever been tempted to put junk food in your shopping cart during a trip to the store? Grocery stores are notorious for prompting impulse purchases of unhealthy foods by putting them right where you can see them. And it doesn’t help that manufacturing companies are working hard to find packaging that attracts our attention!

Of course, if you’re wondering why we fall for this, the reason can be even more subtle. Researchers have known for a long time that we connect the concepts of “unhealthy” and “tasty” on an implicit level.

But can healthy food be tasty, too? And how can you figure out ways to make the leap and connect “healthy” food with “tasty” in your mind?

Total Food Restriction ≠ Healthy

First off, let’s get one thing clear: calorie restriction isn’t inherently “healthy.” It is especially problematic when we try to completely cut out fats, carbs, and sugars, all of which have gotten a bad rep in the world of nutrition in recent years. Eating these things in moderate quantities isn’t bad, and eating them when you crave them can actually help you listen to your body and dial back binge eating in the long run.

Think of it this way: pasta with tomato sauce, spinach, vegetables, olive oil, fresh cheese, and herbs isn’t “unhealthy” because it includes fats and carbs. Adding a little crumbled bacon to a soup or salad brings a welcome pop of flavor and texture, even though bacon is often considered too greasy and fatty to be healthy.

My point is this: cutting foods (and especially entire food groups) out of your diet in the name of health doesn’t always give us the miracle cure as promised. Worse, this kind of restriction can make you less likely to stick with the healthy changes you’re looking for. 

Find Your Version of “Healthy”

Stuffing yourself with kale and tofu, even when you hate kale and tofu, isn’t healthy! It’s such a common thing that whether we’re trying to get control of our weight or follow through on a New Year’s resolution, we assume that only the healthiest foods are healthy—even if we don’t actually enjoy those foods.

Whole, healthy foods are just like anything else: we all have our preferences! Think of it as an opportunity to experiment with the kinds of meals you enjoy. Do you love spinach in your salads but hate the taste of kale? Do you prefer lean meats like chicken, or even other soy-based proteins like tempeh, over tofu? Have some fun trying different types of healthy, whole foods to find what works for you.

Know How to Add Flavor

Like anything else, even the healthiest foods can taste gross when they aren’t prepared in a way that brings out their flavor. Consider trying different forms of preparation to see what works. Add acidic flavor with lemon or vinegar to bring brightness to a dish. Reinvent your dishes with herbs and spices, and test out different flavor palettes from diverse cultures to see what sticks in your meal plans. Knowing how to add flavor comes with practice, but as you adjust to your own taste, you’ll find that even the healthy foods you shunned before taste delicious in your kitchen!

Healthy food shouldn’t be something you cringe away from, especially when there’s so much of it to love! As you try different types of recipes and forms of preparation, it will get easier to associate healthy food with “tasty” in your mind. Don’t forget to check out my blog for tips on adding more healthy foods to your meal plan—and for ideas on how to make them! 

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