The theme this year for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' National Nutrition Month information and education campaign is a perfect fit for my column -- Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right. My response is "exactly."
Surveys show time and time again that people choose food based on its taste and flavor. And as this column will prove, there are plenty of healthy food choices that allow us to enjoy the taste of eating right.
For those who think healthy food can't taste great, look at it this way. You have about 10,000 taste buds, so why not give a couple of them a chance to explore healthy food options?
Our taste buds respond to five different tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. Umami is a new sensory term used to describe a brothy, meaty or savory flavor.
So, what about your taste? Most people tend to prefer a sweet taste, acquiring this preference before we were born from the sweetness of amniotic fluid. But even at birth we have the ability to perceive all five tastes, so actual flavor preferences are learned habits over time.
It is true that some people are more sensitive to some tastes and to taste in general. Saliva, the number of taste buds, medications, some illnesses, age and smoking contribute or detract from our ability to taste.
Do you want to have some fun testing your tasting? To find out if you are a "supertaster" here is an experiment you can do at home: Using a hole punch, punch one hole in a small piece of wax paper, place the hole on the tip of your tongue and wipe that part of your tongue with blue food coloring. Using a mirror, magnifying glass and a flashlight, count the papillae, or taste buds. If you find more than 50 papillae you are a supertaster, but if you have fewer than 15 you are considered a nontaster.
In terms of boosting flavor in cooking and baking, fats, sugar and salts often play a prominent role, yet these ingredients also can contribute to health problems. Recommendations for preparing a healthy recipe include keeping fat, salt and sugar in check so cooks need to turn to flavor-boosting techniques like
• adding fresh herbs and spices, like smoked paprika, fresh basil and cumin (if using dry spices, make sure they are used within one year of purchase).
• adding dried ingredients such as dried fruits, mushrooms, red pepper flakes or sun dried tomatoes.
• Marinating meats, seafood and vegetables to infuse flavor.
• Adding other bold ingredients like chipotle peppers, balsamic vinegar or fresh garlic.
Taste and flavor tops the list of reasons we choose one food over another. We also know that research also shows a direct correlation with food choices and health. So tantalize your taste buds with Pan-Glazed Chicken with Kale and Basil. The sweetness from the balsamic vinegar and honey stand up to the bitter flavors of the fresh kale. With this on your plate you will truly enjoy the taste of eating right.
• Toby Smithson, a registered dietitian, is the author of "Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition for Dummies" and is a national spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.