Rehab Your Taste Buds: Getting Hooked on Wholesome Foods

Question: How can individuals and business work together to promote healthy lifestyles? 

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David Katz: One interesting anecdote is the whole Atkins diet craze. Atkins, and we needn’t talk about the merits or lack thereof in a just cut carbohydrate approach to dieting although I will note that everything from lentils to lollipops is carbohydrates so that kind of sums up my view on that topic. But let’s face it, it became a very popular diet in particular after a cover story in the New York |Times Magazine: “When Fat Doesn’t Make Us Fat” by Gary Taubes, the diet took often into the stratosphere. It went from millions of readers to tens of millions of readers. What happened? What happened was every supermarket in America filled out with low carbohydrate foods. Frankly most of these are high calorie low carbohydrate crap but it was there for your selection and the interesting thing about this was there was no policy reform, there was no legislation that Congress passed that said very supermarket must offer low carb food. Every supermarket in America filled up with low carb food for one reason and one reason only. You wanted it. Maybe not you personally, we wanted it, our society wanted it. We talk about the food supply as if it’s the Himalayas. As if it’s this immutable thing. It's not.

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There is one thing that very reliably try to trumps the food supply and that is food demand. At the end of the day, the business of business is business and they are just trying to keep the customers satisfied, it depends what we want. The problem in our current mess is we want all the wrong stuff. Why do we want the wrong stuff? Because tastes buds are very malleable little fellows. They learn to like what they know. We're bathing our taste buds in too much sugar, too much salt, too much processed food all day long. That’s what they know and crave. This in its own right is a complicated potentially lengthy topic.

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The average breakfast cereal is saltier than your diet should be. If breakfast cereals are pulling your average up, what the heck is going pull it down. There are many pasta sauces that have more added sugar than ice cream topping. Should diabetics eat as much ice cream topping as they want but run like hell when they see a jar of marinara sauce? We created a food supply that's pretty cacamimi but the result of this is, you’re getting all this sugar when you eat pasta sauce, just imagine how much sugar you need at dessert time to feel satisfied. So that changes your demand and then the food supply matches your demand which exacerbates your demand which further erodes the supply.

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The solution to a lot of these is illumination. Knowing what's actually in your food, knowing how it affects what you prefer because taste buds are malleable little fellows and when they can’t be with the foods they love they learn to love the foods they're with and you can rehabilitate them. You can learn to love foods closer to nature and when you do that you actually taste the salt in breakfast cereal. I can’t eat those breakfast cereals anymore, neither can my family. And neither can most of my patients. You actually taste the sugar and pasta sauce. You won’t want those pasta sauces or those salad dressings. And when you rehabilitate your diet and your taste buds, you need a lot less sugar at dessert time to feel satisfied.  And you need a lot less salt when you're salting things to feel satisfied. Your demand changes, suddenly you're shopping for different foods. Well, now you do that all by yourself? You're going to have to work hard with the current food supply to find what you're looking for.

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But if we can make the identification in selection of helpful foods, the cultural norm we could make it a craze, the way the Atkin's diet was a craze. Every supermarket in the United States will reliably fill up with more wholesome food to satisfy the demand. So one anecdote is the natural experiment. We had the Atkin's diet, it made people want low carb food. Whether it was an enlightened desire is a different story but people wanted it, the supplier made it available. That’s very encouraging. Now all we need to do is get everybody to want nutritious food and I suspect the food supply will come around.

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Recorded on: July 06, 2009

When the Atkins Diet took off into the stratosphere, every supermarket stocked low-carb foods. Nutrition expert David L. Katz wants to achieve the same thing with healthy foods generally.

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