March is designated as “National Nutrition Month” by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as a way to convey to the public the importance of making informed food choices. Every year, there is a new theme, and this year’s theme is “Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right.” Flavor is the main driving force in what consumers choose to eat – and this does not always lead to the best nutrition decisions. Unfortunately, many Americans have been fooled by food companies into thinking what real flavor actually is – thanks to artificial ingredients and a reliance on added sugar, fat and salt. That being said, this does not mean that healthy foods are devoid of flavor, either. In fact, it is quite the opposite.
We have at least 5 recognizable flavors in foods – sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami. Sweetness is easily detected in carbohydrate-rich foods like fruit. Saltiness is also a bit more obvious and ubiquitous in most people’s diets when processed food is consumed; however, there are natural sources of sodium in foods like seaweed. Bitterness can be found in foods like raw cocoa, greens, and olives. Lemons usually come to mind when you think of the term ‘sour’, along with vinegar and pickled foods. Umami is a Japanese term essentially meaning “delicious” and is found in items that have been fermented, like miso, sauerkraut, and tamari, along with tomato paste, nutritional yeast, and mushrooms.
This month, I would encourage you to explore all the tastes that are around you. Step out of your comfort zone. Try some new recipes. I am a proponent of eating a diet based on variety. Not only will that help keep you from being bored in the kitchen, but it will also help to ensure you are getting the nutrients you need and satisfied with the choices you have made.