How to Use the Five Tastes to Create a Balanced Diet

Do you have a sweet tooth, or do you constantly crave something savory? Each one of our taste sensations—salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami—play an important role in our diets, and it's important that many of these sensations be met in order for us to feel satisfied. Ideally, you should try to combine as many tastes as possible in meals or snacks for a balanced diet, but beware of sending your calorie intake to overdrive.

More: 8 Healthy Pocket Snacks

Taste 1: Salty

Long considered an element that's necessary for life, salt is the most common craving sensation. Reaching for potato chips and pretzels often signals hormone fluctuations in your body, indicating stress. Too much salt causes increased water retention and raises your blood pressure.

Pitfalls of too much salt: When you meet your craving for salt, you'll often feel the desire to go the opposite end of the spectrum for something sweet. It's a dangerous cycle. Instead, when the craving for salt happens, reach for a handful of lightly salted almonds, breathe deeply, and relax.

More: 3 Ways to Lower Salt Intake

Taste 2: Sweet

It's easy to understand the lure of anything sweet. It signals the pleasure area in the brain, especially at the end of a satisfying meal.

Pitfalls of too much sugar: Sweets are satisfying only for a while. If you eat too much sugar, your body will crave salt to stay balanced; this could possibly lead to binging.

Instead, when the craving for something sugary hits, opt for sweet-and-savory treats like one piece of fleur de sel caramel.

More: 10 Ways to Find Hidden Sugar in Your Diet

Taste 3: Sour

In general, sour foods get a bad rap. Thoughts of spoiled food come to mind immediately, but sour foods have a lot of health benefits. Fermented food like wine, sauerkraut and pickles have a strong, earthy odor. If you can get past the smell, they're a good source of probiotics, which aid in digestion. So next time a jar of pickles comes your way, grab a few and know you're also satisfying a craving for salt.

More: 11 Sour Foods That Boost Endurance and Power

Taste 4: Bitter

Bitterness is an acquired taste, but adding this component to your meals can not only help balance your taste buds but can also help your body absorb nutrients. Examples of bitter foods include radicchio, kale and arugula. All of these foods detoxify the blood and metabolize fat, but on their own can taste downright unappetizing. To make these veggies more palatable, toss mixed greens with a sweet-sour dressing like a balsamic vinaigrette.

More: 10 Bitter Foods That Cleanse the Body and Boost Performance

Taste 5: Umami

The fifth and most misunderstood taste is umami, the sensation of deliciousness. It was initially thought that umami could only be derived from monosodium glutamate (MSG), but recent findings have shown that fish, cured meats, mushrooms and cheese also are rich in the taste sensation. Try sauteed mushrooms with Swiss cheese on top of a turkey burger for a lean and umami-rich meal.

More: Umami Recipe: Shitake Bowl With Kale and Brown Rice

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