How wimpy taste buds can lead to weight gain

People with a diminished ability to taste food usually choose sweeter—and likely higher-calorie—fare, which can put them at risk for gaining weight, research shows.

“We found that the more people lost sensitivity to sweetness, the more sugar they wanted in their foods,” says lead author Robin Dando, assistant professor of food science at Cornell University.

A connection between diminished taste and obesity has been long suspected, but no one had until now tested if losing it alters intake.

For a new study in Appetite, Dando temporarily dulled the taste buds of participants and then had them sample foods of varying sugar concentrations.

For the blind tests, researchers gave participants an herbal tea with low, medium, or high concentrations of a naturally occurring herb, Gymnema sylvestre, which temporarily blocks sweet receptors. Participants were able to add their favored levels of sweetness to bland concoctions.

They gravitated to 8 to 12 percent sucrose. Soft drinks are generally around 10 percent sugar. “That’s not a coincidence,” Dando says. Participants with their taste receptors blocked began to prefer higher concentrations of sugar.

“Others have suggested that the overweight may have a reduction in their perceived intensity of taste. So, if an overweight or obese person has a diminished sense of taste, our research shows that they may begin to seek out more intense stimuli to attain a satisfactory level of reward,” Dando says, which can influence eating habits.

For a regular, sugary 16-ounce soft drink, a person with a 20 percent reduction in the ability to sense sweet would crave an extra teaspoon of sugar to reach an optimal level of sweetness, as compared to someone with an unaltered response.

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“The gustatory system—that is, the taste system we have—may serve as an important nexus in understanding the development of obesity,” Dando says. “With this in mind, taste dysfunction should be considered as a factor.”

Source: Cornell University