Lemons – sweet or sour or both?

Why couldn't lemons be "Yum!" and ice cream be "Yuck, that tastes too sweet."?

Why couldn’t lemons be “Yum!” and ice cream be “Yuck, that tastes too sweet.”?

If you look around the globe and study the diversity of the various cultural cuisines, you can easily see how what you grow up eating is what you generally find tasty. Different cultures “decide” what tastes good and it ends up being somewhat of a self fulfilling prophecy. In the US, most kids are growing up eating foods that taste predominantly sweet and salty with very little variability. Frequently, you see families eating a fair amount of processed foods with additives and “cheese” and “fruit” flavorings. As older kids and grown ups, it can be challenging to try to incorporate new foods because our taste buds and psychology are already so used to sweet foods and foods laden with chemical flavorings and preservatives.

As a former sugar addict, I was determined to not pass along my addiction to my kids. They have grown up eating whole foods with an emphasis on a variety of actual fruits and vegetables that come with a rainbow of nutrients and real flavors. My kids now tell me that their fellow classmates are stunned that they consider pure lemon juice somewhat sweet. If I offer my kids a protein bar with too much dried fruit in it, they tell me it is too sweet and ask for something with a more complex profile of flavors. Of course, following their taste buds this way consistently leads them to eating foods with better nutritional profiles. Thankfully, over the years my taste buds have changed and I too find foods predominantly sweet to be much to sweet. I now crave dark leafy greens instead of ice cream. It takes awhile to change this dynamic, but it is well worth the efforts to retrain your taste buds and eating habits.

The other day, my kids came waving one of their kids books at me saying “look mom!…this is why everybody thinks sugar is so good and lemons are too sour….here’s the problem!!” They had found a page in one of their books that discussed taste buds and how they worked to detect the different flavors. They pointed out that the girl eating something sweet was smiling widely and saying “yum!” and when she ate lemons she was making an awful sour face and saying “yuck!!”  My kids reminded me that in their lives, they tend to make the awful frowny face when they eat too much pure sweet flavor and that they make the wide smiley face when they eat lemons. It made me really think about how often we take for granted that sugar is a delightful treat and that other flavors are not considered so.  In actuality, a wide variety of foods can be considered a real treat – including lemons!

When you are making dietary changes, keep in mind that you are not only retraining your taste buds. You are also retraining your psychology and expectations of what is normal or what should be considered a treat.