Mother Nature can be a b$%&*. She loaded vegetables with disease-fighting phytochemicals and then packed them with fiber and water to help you fill up and keep lean, yet somehow neglected to put their taste appeal on par with your favorite junk food. Just rude, really.
Well, in actuality, you may in fact be genetically wired to be a sensitive "supertaster" of vegetables' bitter compounds. (Go to page 3 to see if you're a veggie supertaster.) If genetics aren't the source of your problems, you may instead be one of the poor sods who simply never learned to love his veggies. Whatever the case, we can't force you to stay at the dinner table until you've finished your vegetables—but our 10 tips can help you find ways to sneak more greens into your diet.
1) Shred 'em
Cut up your vegetables and hide them in your food. "Some shredded vegetables that work really well are zucchini, squash and carrots," says Kathleen Zelman, M.P.H., R.D., a nutrition consultant and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "You can hide them in meat loaf, soups, stews and sauces—anything that you'll cook for a period of time so they'll soften and become incorporated into the dish." Sure, you might feel like the family pet whose pills get hidden in peanut butter; but the point is that you're getting the nutrients your body needs. So, hide away.
2) Eat 'em With Meat
Free amino acids such as glutamate (also known as MSG) help dull the bitterness in certain vegetables. And you thought MSG was just that stuff in Chinese food that gives you headaches and joint pain. Glutamates are present in meat—especially in aged meat, such as pepperoni and aged beef. So, mix chicken with your greens, or stir-fry a vegetable with a low-fat sirloin.
3) Put 'em on Pizza
Fermented foods and some vegetables also contain free glutamates, so pile them on a pizza for a glutamate bonanza that will help you chow down your veggies without any unpleasantness. "Pizza has a tremendous amount of free glutamate," says Paul Breslin, Ph.D., an associate professor at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. "Bread is fermented, cheese is fermented, and tomatoes and pepperoni contain a lot of free glutamate." When you do get a pizza—which shouldn't be all that often—have the pizza guy pop your vegetables onto a thin crust with half the cheese (and skip the aged meats). You'll cut down on the empty carbs and saturated fat and load up on the disease-fighting phytochemicals.
4) Heat 'em Up
Heating vegetables—either steaming, microwaving or stir-frying—helps dull their bite. In fact, heated vegetables, especially the roasted kind, taste sweet. "Roasting an onion, garlic, or any vegetable makes it taste much better," says Zelman. "The high heat caramelizes it, so it takes on a whole different flavor and texture."
5) Shake on Some Salt
Sprinkle your greens with some sodium, which will also cut the bitterness. "We're still not sure how the mechanism works," says Breslin. "It has something to do with salt interfering with bitter-taste signals getting to the brain." Again, do this in moderation. If you're hypertensive, don't do it at all.