According to new research from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, we humans have taste receptors located all over our bodies, from the tongue, to the gut, to the nose, to the brain.
Flavors are a combination of tastes and odors that travel to the backs of our mouths, triggering the nerve endings of taste receptors that send messages to the brain. In short, the tastes of a food first travel to the papillae of the taste buds on the tongue, where their flavors are received and perceived; then, the taste receptors in the nose further enhance taste perception. (This is why a sinus infection or head cold will mute the tasting ability of most people.)
Did you know that some of us are actually supertasters who have a higher density of supersensitive taste buds on our tongues?
That’s right: It’s estimated that nearly 25 percent of the population are supertasters, and these people are able to sense taste with much greater intensity than normal. Not surprisingly, a high proportion of professional chefs are supertasters.
Supertasters are more likely than the average person to be offended by bitter-tasting foods, and they also tend to avoid dark-green cruciferous vegetables—veggies like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, and cabbage. They are highly sensitive to creamy and fatty foods, and are averse to the tastes of beer and hard liquors. On the other hand, supertasters prefer sweeter vegetables and fruits, as well as saltier foods.
This groundbreaking discovery opens the door for future dietitians and nutritionists to customize nutritional advice for the different palates of their clients.
As a rule, supertasters tend to be leaner than most individuals in the general public. Some studies also suggest that they are more likely to fend off bacterial sinus infections. On a negative note, supertasters have a heightened risk of developing colon cancer.
One way to get control of your nutrition style and manage your weight is to measure how sensitive your own taste buds are. Scientists in a lab usually use a bitter synthetic compound called phenylthiocarbamide or 6-n-propylthiouracil (also known as PROP or PTC) to challenge the buds. Supertasters can readily taste PROP and they find it to be hyper-bitter; remarkably, non-supertasters can’t detect any bitterness there at all.
If you don’t happen to have a supply of PROP on hand, you can still test your sensitivity. In their best-selling book, You on a Diet, the author/physician team, Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Michael Roizen, mention another testing method using only the artificial sweetener, saccharin.
I have modified this Roizen/Oz procedure for my own nutrition practice. Here’s what I tell my clients to do. First, take a very small sample of saccharin and place it on the extreme tip of your tongue. Now, concentrate on the very tip of your tongue and ask yourself: What do I taste?
No matter what your taste bud inventory is, remember:
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