There are a million reasons out there that people will use as an excuse to not eat vegetables. Some of the funniest ones we’ve come across are:
- asparagus makes my pee smell and my wife doesn't like it when I stink up the bathroom
- broccoli smells like stinky socks
- vegetables feel gross in my mouth
- I can’t eat vegetables without gagging, literally
Scientifically speaking, there’s actually a pretty interesting reason why people don’t like vegetables – they are bitter. Why do vegetables taste bitter to some, but not others? First, vegetables are bitter by nature. Second, people have different taste genes for vegetables! There are over 400 types of vegetables out there in the world and hopefully by the end of this article, you'll have a better idea of how to increase your daily veggie intake without hating every bite.
"Why Don’t I Like Vegetables?"
This question, and this one, “What do I do if I don’t like vegetables?” are pretty common. With so many options to choose from, vegetables and other foods, it makes sense that we have developed a pretty picky way of eating. When taste buds were discovered in the 19th century under a microscope, the idea persisted that there are four main categories of flavors. Our tongue and pallet recognize these individual taste categories in order to determine the signals of ingestion from the brain to the body. They are sweet, sour, salty, bitter.
Long before processed foods we’re ever a thought, humans had to survive strictly off of what they hunted and gathered. Not all plants in nature are edible, and to this day, they remain inconsumable by humans without adverse effects or toxicity. Similarly, the same way you get an itchy rash from poison oak and poison ivy, there are plants that humans aren’t very privy to ingesting either. Human bodies react to sour and bitter tastes as threats - a defense mechanism against toxic plants and animals. Interesting, huh!?
Why Do Vegetables Taste Bad?
It's not so much that they taste bad, but instead that they're bitter. Vegetables, especially very green and cruciferous vegetables have a lot of beneficial bioactive compounds including calcium, isoflavones, flavonoids, phenols, and glucosinolates, all of which contribute to the bitterness of vegetables. Additionally, vegetables are also bitter because of nitrogen-based chemical compounds called alkaloids.
Where are alkaloids found? Alkaloids are found naturally occurring in a variety of plants in order to defend themselves from animals that are looking for a snack, parasites, and bacteria/pathogens. Fungi, plants (including veggies), and bacteria are all examples of natural alkaloid producers.
What are alkaloids used for?
Examples of alkaloids and their uses are commonly recognized as:
- Plant Defense (efficient against pathogens & predators due to their toxicity)
- Psychotropic Medications (Zoloft, Prozac, Lexapro)
- Stimulators (caffeine)
- Antimalarial (quinine, mefloquine, halofantrine)
- Painkillers (codeine, morphine, ephedrine)
Alkaloids are able to be very mild and accelerate to very potent and even toxic substances very quickly. The very reason that makes them a great defense mechanism or painkiller, is the same reason why people don’t like the bitter taste of vegetables. While you might think your girlfriend is just a picky eater, it might just be that she has a stronger innate reflex and defense against bitter tasting foods.
Are Food Preferences Inherited or Learned?
The human palate is conditioned based on what your mother ate while you were in the womb, your heritage and cultural norms, our genetic makeup, and even visual appearance. It also depends on a substance called PROP (6-n-propylthiouracil), which causes humans to recognize an overwhelming bitterness in food, while others cannot taste it at all. These two groups are referred to by Harvard physicians and researchers as “Super-Tasters and Non-Tasters”.
Dr. Bartoshuk of Harvard Medical Sciences found that while about 25% of the population is extremely sensitive to the taste of this chemical (PROP), an equal portion (25-30%) cannot taste it, leaving about 45-50% of the population to be ‘average’ tasters.
Do You Have Supertaster Genes?
- Supertasters with greater sensitivity to PROP tend to eat fewer vegetables because of their bitter taste and have been found to have higher colon polyp counts, both of which are potential risk factors for colon cancer.
- On the positive side, supertasters, especially female supertasters, have a reduced preference for sweet, high-fat foods, have a lower body mass index (BMI), and tend to have superior cardiovascular profiles.
- Non-tasters have a clear preference for high-fat, sweeter foods. They also show the greatest alcohol intake and a higher rate of alcoholism.
- Interestingly, those with the lowest PROP thresholds tend to be thin, while those with the highest thresholds tend to be heavier.
Why Are Vegetables Good for You?
High Micronutrient Profile
While your pallet might not like vegetables much, your body loves them! They’re power-packed with micronutrients including antioxidants, minerals, fiber, phytonutrients and vitamins that work together to keep your body in a healthy state while avoiding deficiencies and diseases. (Read about how added sugars are destroying your health by clicking HERE)
Vegetables Are Low Carb
Maintaining a healthy body weight with vegetables (or losing weight) is an ideal source of volume without the extra calories. Vegetables have a large amount of volume, so when you eat them, you feel fuller and feel fuller longer. By expending more calories than you put in, you are able to maintain and/or lose body fat more efficiently, achieving a healthier overall body weight.
Vegetables Have Fiber
Yes! Fiber is one of those awesome nutrients that help us feel full, and feel fuller longer while feeding our intestinal bacteria and maintaining healthy poops! Who doesn’t love happy poos, I mean, honestly now ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Anyways… by increasing your fiber intake you also increase your digestion rate and quality, meaning more nutrients are absorbed and distributed to the areas of your body (i.e. tissues, bones, blood, organs) that need it most to function efficiently.
Vegetables Hydrate You
Staying hydrated is optimal for the human body, considering it’s almost all water! Surprisingly enough, drinking water isn’t the only way you can get hydrated. While drinking H20 is the preferred method, eating more vegetables in your diet can actually hydrate you, too!
How to Cook Vegetables
Eat Vegetables Raw
Vegetables can actually taste good raw, believe it or not! Our go-to raw veggies include carrots, broccoli, lettuce greens, bell peppers, bok choy, cabbage, and cauliflower. Chop them up and dip them in something or just munch on them on their own!
Cook Steamed Vegetables
Steaming vegetables in a pot with an inch or two of water can soften up vegetables and really bring out their natural taste. Some go-to vegetables for steaming include artichokes, asparagus, potatoes, broccoli, sugar snap peas, beets, and spinach
Sautéing vegetables is a lot easier than it sounds. Grab your trusty saucepan and put in on the stove over medium to high heat. Add some cooking oil and chopped up veggies to the pan. In about 10ish minutes (don’t forget the seasoning) you’ll have some warm and tasty veggies. Easiest go-to veggies for a quick sauté are Brussels sprouts, swiss chard, kale, asparagus, zucchini, squash, peppers (green, red, yellow), carrots, peas, and mushrooms. Add in some chopped meat and you’ve got yourself a pretty complete and low carb meal!
Using low heat and a small amount of liquid, placing vegetables in a covered pot will braise the vegetables nicely (think crockpot). Vegetables that are good for braising include sweet potatoes, beets, radishes, shallots, green beans, spinach, collard greens, cabbage, tomatoes, celery, leeks, and eggplant.
How to Like Vegetables?
There are literally hundreds of vegetables to experiment and choose from, including ‘sweeter’ ones like carrots, sweet potatoes, and peas. In fact, just to name a few, our pals over at Pop Chart Lab have put together an infographic of over 400 vegetables!
Eating more vegetables, whether you’re on a budget, short on time, or flat out just don’t like them can be hard. But it doesn’t have to be as hard as we make it! By becoming a little creative with our nutritional lifestyle, being a little more daring with our choices, deciding not to tell ourselves we ‘hate’ something, and adding in some variety, you’re well on your way to implementing more veggies and increasing your overall health and wellness.
Start out simple and incorporate them into meals you already love – smoothies, side dishes, and snacks. Experiment a little with whatever will help you eat more vegetables, and do more of that, every day!