The Standard American Diet (SAD) is composed mainly of salty and sweet flavors. As a result, we have lost a taste for a variety of flavors that have been forgotten. Big Food companies employ food scientists to produce hyper-palatable foods that are designed to make us want more. Man-made foods that hijack our taste buds leave our palate wanting more and more of these excessive sweet and salty tastes.
Sugar detoxes that employ cold turkey methods of removing sugar and processed foods for a period of time can work. Eliminating these foods can reset our palate and allow us to appreciate the natural sweetness of foods. Another way to reset our palate is to start introducing a variety of flavors.
There are five basic flavors that our tongues can perceive in food and herbs; sweet, sour, bitter, umami and salty. Each flavor produces particular actions and has a relationship with one or several body systems. With the consumption of sugar and processed foods, we have lost our appreciation of these flavors. Hunter-gatherers experienced these flavors on a regular basis. Each season would offer different tastes depending on what was available and what region the hunter-gatherer lived in.
Bitter herbs stimulate the production of normal digestive secretions and promote healthy digestion and elimination. The flavor of bitter on the tongue starts the flow of saliva in the mouth and sends hormonal signals to the rest of the digestive tract to prepare hydrochloric acid and digestive enzyme production so that we can break down food and absorb nutrients. The bitter flavor also stimulates motility of the digestive tract supporting healthy elimination.
Examples of bitter foods and herbs are dandelion root, arugula, kale, artichokes, broccoli, turmeric, oregano, coriander, mustard seed, and chocolate
The herbs with a sour flavor also affect digestion by promoting the production of bile in the liver and excretion of bile from the gallbladder in order to break down fats in the diet. Many of the sour herbs are also bitters. (Sorry - Sour Patch Kids don’t count!)
Examples of sour foods and herbs are lemon, lime, grapefruit, sour cherries, vinegar, yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi
Sweet herbs are often calming to the nervous system and soothing to inflamed mucous membrane tissue. Demulcent herbs, those with mucilage that promote healthy mucous membrane tissue, soothe and protect irritated and inflamed internal tissues, are also considered sweet. They have a slippery mild taste and swell in water. This forms a gel-like mass that protects and soothes tissues. Examples of demulcent herbs are licorice, marshmallow, and slippery elm.
Examples of sweet foods and spices are cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, allspice, lavender, basil, mint, sesame, grains, carrots, sweet potatoes, and beets
Umami is sometimes described as savory, full-bodied or meaty and is the most recently introduced as one of the 5 basic tastes in 1985 by a Japanese chemist. The presence of the amino acid L-glutamate lends this specific flavor. MSG (monosodium glutamate is added to many processed foods and Asian foods to enhance the umami flavor but can cause reactions in certain individuals due to the isolation and concentration of glutamate produced in the fermentation process). Your body is better able to break down naturally occurring glutamate versus MSG, which breaks down much more rapidly in the body and can be the cause of headaches, high blood pressure, weight gain and asthma attacks in some individuals. As you can see from the examples below, plant and animal foods are sources of naturally occurring L-glutamate
Examples of food with umami flavor are meat, cheese, mushrooms, tree nuts, tomatoes, soy sauce, seaweed, seafood, asparagus, green tea, bone broth, potatoes, carrots
The body uses salt to maintain fluid levels. A balance of fluid and sodium are necessary for the health of the heart, kidneys, and liver. Salt regulates blood fluids and prevents low blood pressure. Salty foods also help you stay hydrated, balance electrolytes and prevent muscle cramping
Examples of salty foods and herbs are dandelion leaf, seaweed, kelp, pickles, meat, shellfish
Challenge Yourself to Try New Foods
If you steer your taste buds away from ultra salty and sweet processed foods, you will find an appreciation for bitter and sour. You may find that your sweet tooth will be a little more discerning of the natural sweetness in real food. Better yet, you may start craving foods from the flavor palates I have mentioned above. This is what happened to me!
My challenge to each of you is to try to incorporate as many of the five flavors that you can each day. Let me know how it goes!