by David G. Woolley
Editor's note: This post is part of a weekly summer-long look at food. This week its healthy snacks. Next week its a sobering look at artificial sugars.
It isn't a pretty picture. Thousands of papillae like these mushroom headed and hair-like follicle protrusions cover the surface of your tongue. Without them you'd likely never know the taste of a lima bean or the difference between a sweet onion and a sour grape. We call them taste buds. Your doctor calls them gustatory calyculi. About one hundred receptor cells are found in each one, sending sweet, sour, bitter and salty messages to your brain.
There are no chocolate receptors. Sorry Kerry Blair.
There is, however, a fifth category new to the tasty fabulous four. Its what scientists call umami, the category of savory, meaty or brothy tastes. Isn't it nice of science to name an entire taste category after your mother's home made soups?
Combine the work of these papillae with the olfactory epithelium in your nose, the mechanoreceptors checking out the texture of what you eat, and the thermoreceptors keeping tabs on the temperature of what goes in your mouth and your brain runs wild, coming up with millions of discriminating tastes for everything from blueberries to blue cheese. A Cafe Rio burrito with green sauce would be nothing more than a pile of bland black beans without these microscopic food annalyzers. Even the steel nails on your work bench have a distinct taste you'll likely never forget.
*Note: The Top of the Morning staff doesn't recommend nails as part of a healthy diet unless you're starring on FOX channel's WWF wrestling, playing offensive line for the 49ers, or if you're a mom with teenagers.
Taste. Its a gift of tongues. It can also fool you into disliking the very foods that bless you with great health. Eat lots of sugary treats and the papillae lose their ability to detect the subtle flavors in fruits, vegetables and grains. And since taste is processed by your brain, not your tongue where the receptors are located, other factors associated with cravings (see previous post "Gotta Have It"), effect your sense of taste.
How many times do you eat something you know isn't healthy because, hey, it tastes so good? To start training your tongue and treat it to something tasty yet healthy change the snack offerings in your kitchen. Throw out the chips. Toss the candy. Melt the ice cream. And replace them with natural, healthy snacks like seeds, nuts, dried fruits, grain sticks, and candy-less granola.
A mix of sunflower seeds, raisins, green pumpkin seeds, craisins and almonds is a flavorful treat that tempers the between-meals hunger attack. You can use it as either a breakfast cereal topping or even cereal itself with some ice cold soy milk. Get creative. Walk through the bulk food section at the grocery store or the health food store and mix and match nuts, seeds and dried fruits into some enjoyable granolaesque treats that will keep you coming back to the healthy snack food jar in your kitchen whenever you have a hankering. Even better, keep three or four glass jars filled with nuts or seeds like sunflower or pumpkin. In place of "chips" try spelt sticks, sesame sticks, and Cajun sticks from, once again, the bulk food section. They're really good and really good for you. And they may just be the trick to getting you off all those Tostitos, Doritos and Pringles. A jar of mixed dried fruits with nuts has a great taste. Almonds are super food. And in the fridge keep some veggies and fruits ready to pop in your mouth like strawberries, grapes, pineapple or carrots. If they're ready to eat, they'll replace all that easy-to-pop-in-your mouth junk food that is far too accessible and way too unhealthy.
For a cool refreshing drink snack try water. If you want a seriously good food drink try Odwalla's supper food green juice. Its a blend of the healthiest food on the planet (wheat grass and barley grass) combined with peach, strawberry, banana and mango juices. You can get the 64 ounce size for only $5.50 at Costco ($15.00 everywhere else). Its super fresh and super perishable. Drink it fast. Keep it in the fridge.
Blend up some ice, soy milk and some of your favorite fruits like pineapple, strawberry, blueberry and banana. Throw in some coconut or lemon juice for a kick and you'll have an ice creamy treat that is refreshing and so much better for you than the most unhealthy food on the planet: ice cream. That's right. It requires forty times as many neutralizing buffers to protect your body from the deteriorating, debilitating effects of ice cream than any other snack out there. And you thought diabetes was the only risk in eating all those frozen treats.
To quench that thirst have plenty of ice cold, pure, clear water on hand. A few slices of lemon or lime to squeeze into your water turns it into a snack that is not only tasty, but off the charts healthy.
Keep healthy snacks and drinks around the house. Display your nuts, seeds, grain sticks, ice water, Odwalla juice and other ready-to eat snacks prominently. Turn them into visually inviting, olfactory satisfying, papillae pleasing snacks. There's nothing more refreshing than a healthy snack to keep you going through the day or reward you after getting something done on your to-do list. Train your tongue to enjoy nuts, seeds, fruits, and veggies. They're the snacks that will light up your mouth with delight and bless your life with health. You'll be surprised how quickly your tastes change and how many flavors you find in healthy foods that were masked by the high sugar, high salt foods in your diet. And most of all you'll notice a big jump in your health. Do it now and start enjoying the gift of tongues like never before.
Eat well. Live well.
Join author David G. Woolley at his Promised Land Website. He is also a weekly contributor to the Latter Day Authors blog and he writes commentary and opinion at the Utah Ranger's Far Post blog