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Hated foods may be just what you need now

If you grew up having to clean your plate before you could leave the dinner table, it's likely you also grew to dislike broccoli, beets, and Brussels sprouts - some of the veggies least popular with children.

If you grew up having to clean your plate before you could leave the dinner table, it's likely you also grew to dislike broccoli, beets, and Brussels sprouts - some of the veggies least popular with children.

But now that you're older, if you're looking to add some nutritional powerhouses to your diet, it might be worth revisiting dishes you've despised.

"Our taste sensations, interpretation and appreciation can change over time," says Donald Hensrud, a Mayo Clinic weight-management specialist. "There's also some conditioning that goes on - we learn to like certain foods, and we get used to them over time."

Take milk. Years ago, we typically drank it whole and complained that skim milk tasted like water. But skim grew on us. "Now when you go back to whole milk, it tastes like cream," Hensrud says.

You may also have an aversion to foods that were prepared incorrectly or can have a sulfurous odor, like cabbage. But it's possible that "if you don't get that smell, you find something like broccoli more pleasant," says Marci Pelchat of the Philadelphia-based Monell Center, a taste and smell research institute.

Hensrud doesn't recommend forcing anything down. But he does think most of us underestimate our ability to change. Unless you're a supertaster - someone born with a heightened sense of taste - consider experimenting with the following polarizing foods.


Turnoffs: Strong, fishy taste. Tiny bones. Can be packed in tomato sauce. Reputation as a frugality food.

Turn-ons: High in vitamin D and loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which protect your heart and brain. Lots of protein, calcium and selenium. Low on the marine food chain so toxins such as mercury don't accumulate. Inexpensive. Portable when canned.

How to eat them: Avoid sardines packed in vegetable oil, which is high in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids. Try "a squeeze of lemon, toasted red chile, extra virgin olive oil, and mixed green herbs over garlicky al dente whole wheat fettuccine," says John LaPuma, a chef and the medical director for the Santa Barbara Institute for Medical Nutrition and Healthy Weight. Or buy the kind dressed up with mustard or pesto.


Turnoffs: When overcooked, produces the smell of rotten eggs. Too much cabbage may make you gassy.

Turn-ons: One cup of shredded, boiled cabbage has just 33 calories but has 4 filling grams of fiber. Loaded with phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals. May reduce your risk of cancer and has a protective effect on the brain. Fermented cabbage (sauerkraut and kimchi) is a nondairy source of probiotics, or bacteria that have a health benefit. The lactic acid in sauerkraut may help you absorb iron.

How to eat it: Can be steamed, fried, boiled, braised, or baked. Use it in corned beef and cabbage, soups and stews, and cold dishes such as coleslaw, says registered dietitian Dave Grotto, a spokesman for the American Dietetic Association. Cut fresh cabbage and sprinkle with lemon.


Turnoffs: Contain a slimy, jellylike substance around the seeds; thin skin, grainy pulp, and seeds. Sweetness and acidity can vary, depending on the variety and how early they were picked. (The longer a tomato matures on the vine, the higher the sugar content is.)

Turn-ons: Lycopene-rich (red) tomatoes can help reduce your risk for heart disease and certain cancers, including pancreatic and prostate, LaPuma says. Cooked tomatoes - including canned tomatoes and paste, juice, tomato soup, and ketchup - contain up to eight times more available lycopene than raw tomatoes. Excellent source of vitamins A, C, and K, and a good source of potassium, fiber, and other phytonutrients.

How to eat them: Eating tomatoes with fat helps the body absorb their lycopene. The whole tomato has the greatest health benefits, so get the tomato paste products with peels, LaPuma says. Organic ketchup contains three times more lycopene than nonorganic ketchup, he says. Use ketchup with burgers to help offset the carcinogenic compounds created when meat is charred.


Turnoffs: Sulfurous smell. (Perhaps the reason it was disliked, famously, by President George H.W. Bush.)

Turn-ons: An abundance of antioxidants makes broccoli one of the healthiest vegetables you can eat. Aside from its anticancer components such as sulforaphane, broccoli is a nutritional powerhouse that contains vitamins A, C, and K, as well as folate and fiber. Has antibacterial properties that kill Helicobacter pylori, bacteria that cause ulcers and play a role in stomach cancer.

How to eat it: Use it in dips, casseroles, soups, lasagna, stir-fries and salads, suggested chef Dana Jacobi, author of 10 best-selling cookbooks. Or try it on a crudite platter, on pizza, tossed with pasta, pureed as a side dish, added to frittatas and quiche. "Chop up leftover cooked broccoli and add it to chili, sloppy joes, soups and other dishes when you reheat them," she wrote in The 12 Best Foods.


Turnoffs: Earthy flavor, slippery texture, can turn urine a startling pink color (a phenomenon called beeturia). Dissed by President Obama and excluded from the White House garden.

Turn-ons: An excellent liver tonic and blood purifier. Beets have both betaine and folate, which work to reduce homocystein, a naturally occurring amino acid that can be harmful to blood vessels, says nutrition expert Jonny Bowden in his book The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. High in potassium, which is also important for heart health. Contains the most sugar of any vegetable, yet is low in calories.

How to eat them: Baked, broiled, steamed, or shredded raw and added to salads. Borscht is a traditional Russian beet soup. The leaves have even more nutritional value than the roots.

Brussels sprouts

Turnoffs: Resemble tiny cabbages. Parents or grandparents cooked them into oblivion. Sulfur content gives them an unappetizing odor.

Turn-ons: Has a higher concentration of glucosinolates, a type of compound believed to have cancer-fighting properties, than any other plants in the cruciferous vegetable family. An excellent source of vitamins C and K and a very good source of folate, vitamin A, fiber, potassium, and vitamin B6 and B1, LaPuma says.

How to eat them: Trim the sprouts, then toss with olive oil, salt and crushed garlic. Roast in a 400-degree oven for about 30 minutes until tender. Use as little water as possible when boiling.


Turnoffs: Strong, tart taste and smell.

Turn-ons: Licorice root - the herb, not the candy - is known for having a soothing effect on mucous membranes in the throat, lungs, and bronchial tubes. It can also be used to treat ailments from athlete's foot to ulcers, according to James Duke, the former chief of the Medicinal Plant Resources Laboratory at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

How to eat it: Buy it as an herb and add it as a sweetener to aromatic teas, suggested Duke, the author of The Green Pharmacy Guide to Healing Foods. But long-term use has side effects; don't use it regularly for longer than six weeks, and don't take it if you're pregnant or under medical care.