People develop taste preferences which may explain why they chose certain foods over others. Dr. Valerie Duffy, R.D., at the University of Connecticut says “When it comes to taste, each one of us is hard wired differently”. Taste buds may really influence our eating habits which eventually could lead to weight loss or gain and affect diabetes blood sugar control. New research shows our overall health can be influenced as well.
There are 3 major types of tasters – super tasters, non-tasters and those in the middle.
Super tasters are highly sensitive and often find certain foods too intense to eat. They experience food as too spicy, salty, bitter or sweet. They are less likely to inhale their food and tend to eat more leisurely. They are extremely sensitive to dark leafy greens which can be bitter and they like to completely avoid them. Vegetables including Brussel sprouts, collard greens, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, and dandelion greens are unusually powerful to them. They rarely drink their coffee black and are likely to add cream and sugar. Alcoholic beverages seem intensely strong and irritating to super tasters. The taste of spirits including scotch, bourbon and gin are too powerful and they usually stick to white wine or light beer. Americans are approximately 25% super-tasters, 25% non-tasters, with the other 50% somewhere in between. Super tasters may be formed from genetic make up; TAS2R38, which is a gene variant, causes compounds that are bitter to be overwhelming to super tasters. Super tasters seem to have a large number of taste papillae which contain the taste buds; they are tiny bumps located on the tongue.
The other end of the spectrum is the non tasters, who perceive foods with less flavor, intensity and texture. They tend to perceive leafy greens as sweeter and less bitter. They are not sensitive to rich and creamy foods which encourage them to over eat. Comfort food choices including macaroni and cheese, creamy sauces and dressings, extremely sweet desserts, rich gravies and mashed potatoes drowning in butter are usually their favorites. They require more food quantity and bigger portion sizes to feel satiated since they have a duller sense of taste. Taste sensations can definitely affect the waistline. The opposite holds true as well. A study done at Stanford University showed that obese patients had less taste sensitivity compared to a control group of normal weight patients. One thought is that more weight may influence flavor sensitivity and hormonal levels; this could possibly change how taste receptors relay information to the brain. Losing weight may restore some taste sensitivity but it may not bring it back completely. According to lead author, Dr John Morton, at Stanford University, “We need to really appreciate our food and its taste more. Taste is like any other system and it can become dulled with overuse”. Children and young adults have a stronger sense of taste. Women in child bearing years tend to have a stronger sense of taste possibly due to hormones. Taste drops off after menopause. Stress seems to activate cravings in both sexes due to glucocorticoids. People with a poor sense of smell as in sinus problems, severe allergies or chronic nasal infection may have an impaired sense of taste. Chronic ear infections can damage taste nerves which can cause them to crave and prefer sweet and fatty tasting foods. Taste buds lose their intensity as we age and the elderly seem to have the lowest sense of taste.
What to do?
- Try to figure out which taster you are by experimenting with different strong foods.
- Try to cut back or eliminate processed foods. They tend to contain hidden salt, sugar and preservatives which may make you crave more of these foods. Boxed cereals, rice mixes, salad dressings, condiments and tomato sauces are offenders.
- Cook from scratch when you can. This allows you to know exactly what is going into your food.
- Find one cheat food you really want to keep and eliminate the others. Limit your treat-food choices. If you reduce the choices you have available, you will have less of a chance of going wrong. Keep it in individual pack sizes to limit temptation.
- Look for the same color in foods. People tend to splurge more when multiple colors (unless eating a dish of colorful fruits and vegetables) of food are offered to them. People usually eat less when food looks bland in shades of grey and brown. Use the table setting and flowers to jazz up the food.
- Eat from one stew pot/crock pot type meal with a single strong flavor. According to research done at Yale, people want to stop eating sooner when introduced to one dominant flavor like oregano or rosemary in a stew than when eating several side dishes with many different flavors – people grow bored of a single flavor.
- Stay present and eat slowly. When eating, do not become mindless. Really taste and savor your food. Linger over the preparation and the experience. Smell the food before you taste the food.
- Do not do E-mails, talk on the phone or watch TV when eating. Stay focused on the meal. Eat at the table and leave when you are finished.
You can’t really change how you taste food but these tips may help you achieve control over your blood sugars with a better understanding of why you choose certain foods. Awareness is definitely the first step! Good Luck!
NOTE: Consult your Doctor first to make sure my recommendations fit your special health needs.
She is a member of the American Diabetes Association as well as the South Florida Association of Diabetes Educators. She worked with the education department of NBMC to help educate the hospital's in-patient nurses about diabetes. She practices a healthy lifestyle and has worked as a personal fitness trainer in the past.
She was one of the initiators of the North Broward Diabetes Center (NBMC) which started in 1990 and was one of the first American Diabetes Association (ADA) certified programs in Broward County, Florida for nearly two decades. Robbie has educated patients to care for themselves and has counseled them on healthy eating, heart disease, high lipids, use of glucometers, insulin and many other aspects of diabetes care. The NBMC Diabetes Center received the Valor Award from the American Diabetes Center for excellent care to their patients. Robbie has volunteered over the years as leader of many diabetes support groups.