Changing eating behavior - the path to healthy eating

Of course, we could all agree with Oscar Wilde: "I have a very simple taste - the best of everything." But it's not quite that simple, because what is "the best"? As we all know, what tastes good to us is not the best for our health.

"Old habits die hard"
As infants, we end up sweetening. Because there are no sweet foods in nature that are toxic. Now sugar is not toxic, but as adults, we know that the white crystals can attack our teeth, make us fat, probably even inflame the gut and promote cancer. Still, many of us can't stay away from it. After all, when it comes to our tastes, the English saying "Old habits die hard" tends to apply - meaning: Old habits die hard.

"We assume that preferences are even formed in the womb," says Matthias Riedl, a nutritionist from Hamburg. If the mother-to-be eats a varied diet, for example, the child will also be more open to new foods later on. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true. And most of us then learn as children that chips, pizza, and chocolate are something "special" because they are usually available on special occasions. Especially since our bodies are highly responsive to calorie-rich foods because for most of human history there were not yet full refrigerators and supermarket shelves of ice cream and chips.

However, we are not completely helpless in the face of our conditioning. Humans may be creatures of habit, but they are also highly adaptable. "In the course of evolution, we have always had to get used to new environments and thus to a new food, and we manage that quite well," explains Riedl. Otherwise, infants would never break away from their innate sweet taste.

The more often you try something, the more likely you are to like it.
But you have to train yourself to have a healthier taste. And just as endurance doesn't explode after the first 500 meters of jogging, the palate takes a while to adjust. Just as the third run is easier than the first and the fifth easier than the third, a new taste becomes more and more familiar each time.

I, for example, find pure water boring and would never think of drinking the recommended 1.5 liters of it per day. Even when I'm most thirsty, I think of a delicious apple spritzer rather than crystal-clear, cool water. Stupidly, though, juice spritzers aren't as healthy as many think. Apple juice can contain up to 24 grams of sugar per glass, and ready-bought spritzers in particular often consist of half water and half juice - not the ideal thirst quencher.

Start piece by piece with change
With my preference, I am the perfect candidate for Lea Lehmann. She is an ecotrophologist and on the board of Slow Food Germany. Ideal because, especially when it comes to drinks, there are simple tricks to getting used to healthier - and because it's a clearly outlined project. "Don't force yourself, most people fail with that," she explains. And instead advises starting slowly. In my case, that means going from drinking three to four spritzers a day to just two to three at first. And then one to two. Alternatively, I should cut organic lemons or oranges into small pieces and flavor my water with them; I can also use mint, berries, anything that tastes good to me. And the amazing thing is that after just three days I like the "water with" and hardly miss the spritzer anymore.

But two other important factors have helped me. First, I am motivated (by writing this text); and second, Lea Lehmann made me think. "Think about how many apples you would have to eat to have one glass of juice." I realized: quite a few. For me, both motivation and awareness meant that the "More Exposure Effect" - the psychological effect of starting to like something when you encounter it again and again - happened a little faster than normal.

"Typically, you have to experience a new flavor about ten to 30 times before you get used to it," says nutritionist Matthias Riedl, explaining this phenomenon. Here, too, evolution helps us - because the taste is a built-in warning system in the mouth. Only when it has registered that new food is harmless does it give the all-clear.

The role of the food industry
The bigger problem, however, is not one too many glasses of apple spritzer. The bigger problem is the food industry. It assembles apparent flavor paradises of fat, sugar, salt, and flavors that mask each other. "We wouldn't even like many highly processed foods if there wasn't a flavor counterpart," says Lea Lehmann. Otherwise, we would often notice the excess of sugar or fat in a negative way. Therefore the Ökotrophologin advises to cook again more freshly and self. That way, you can recapture the taste, develop a desire for herbs, juicy tomatoes, and crunchy vegetables.

Take fat, for example: According to Lehmann, neither butter nor margarine is the ideal spread. "A lot of people like olive oil, though. If you put that in the refrigerator, it becomes creamy" -and you have an alternative with healthy unsaturated fatty acids. And even the classic "sin" can be made healthier and still delicious quite easily: Pizza. "The finished products usually contain too much phosphate," warns nutritionist Riedl. But too much phosphate can damage the heart, bones, skin, and muscles. He and Lea Lehmann, therefore, suggest making pizza yourself: knead the dough the day before and then transform it into a taste sensation with vegetables, herbs, and herb oil. Lehmann's tip for all salami lovers: Dried tomatoes satisfy our desire for "umami," the hearty taste we perceive in meat or sausage.

Important: Eating should still be fun
However, the change in taste is not completely without fun. "Humans are hedonists. If you want to go through with something completely hostile to pleasure, it won't work," says Matthias Riedl. Pure prohibitions are therefore not useful, offers, on the other hand, very much so.

Riedl and Lehmann have encouraged me to think about my breakfast. I haven't eaten any sugary cornflakes or chocolate pops, but when I looked at my organic muesli, I was amazed. 20, sometimes 25 grams of sugar are in 100 grams! So now I'll be reaching for lower-sugar options. What do the experts advise me to do? "Almond flour, cinnamon, or vanilla," suggests the nutritionist. "Fresh berries or other fruit," recommends the Slow Food woman. Because both agree that my palate needs proper variety if I want to wean it off the sweetness.

Change the taste - this is how it works
- Eat a varied diet, experiment. Lemons, oranges, strawberries, herbs - this is how you can spice up water, nuts, spices, berries to make low-sugar muesli delicious.

- Cook fresh. It doesn't have to be elaborate, sometimes radishes on cheese sandwiches or fresh basil with pasta are enough. The main thing is that your palate discovers a taste for the natural.

- Gently re-accustom your taste buds. Plans such as "No more sugar from tomorrow" usually fail.

- Give your palate time. Only through frequent repetition do we get used to a new taste.

- Associate new foods with feelings of well-being: Food is also home. We prefer food with which we associate a good feeling. Apply this trick when you want to change your tastes.

- Think about your food. Often we think we don't eat that much fat and sugar, and then we're surprised.

- Don't torture yourself. Pick one specific meal as a project. And if you don't like broccoli at all - there are plenty of other healthy vegetables!


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