Nav: Home

With bitter foods, what you eat determines what you like to eat

July 24, 2019

BUFFALO, N.Y. - Introducing plant-based foods to a diet is a common-sense approach to healthy eating, but many people don't like the taste of vegetables, bitter greens, in particular.

But give that broccoli a chance.

Doing so won't just change your mind; it will actually change the taste of those foods, according to a new University at Buffalo study.

What sounds at first like a culinary parlor trick is actually a scientific matter based on specific proteins found in saliva. These proteins affect the sense of taste, and diet composition, at least in part, determines those proteins.

Saliva is a complex fluid containing around 1,000 specific proteins. Identifying all the players is a work in progress, but everything we eat is dissolved in saliva before it interacts with taste receptor cells and all these proteins are candidates for influencing stimuli before food is tasted.

"What you eat creates the signature in your salivary proteome, and those proteins modulate your sense of taste," says Ann-Marie Torregrossa, an assistant professor in UB's Department of Psychology and the associate director of the university's Center for Ingestive Behavior Research, a comprehensive research home for studying eating and drinking behavior, obesity and other factors contributing to the daily decisions people make related to food and fluid intake.

"We've shown in previous work with rats that changing your diet changes what proteins are in your saliva. Now we're showing that the proteins in your saliva change how you taste."

The findings, published in the journal Chemical Senses, have applications ranging from the obesity crisis to medical compliance.

"If we can convince people to try broccoli, greens and bitter foods, they should know that with repeated exposure, they'll taste better once they regulate these proteins," says Torregrossa.

How much repeated exposure? Give me a number.

"Our data doesn't provide a number, such as 12 servings of broccoli, however, for people who avoid these foods because of their bitterness, but would like to include them in their diet, they should know their taste will eventually change."

Bitterness is also a near-universal characteristic of many pediatric medicines, and getting infants to swallow a bitter liquid -- which by nature they want to reject -- can be a challenge.

"An additive to that medicine to make it less bitter would increase compliance," she says. "It's similar to liquid dietary supplements in the geriatric population, which often contain sugar to tame the bitterness. Achieving the same result without sweeteners has obvious benefits."

At a bare minimum, Torregrossa says health care and nutritional professionals can counsel people to explain the role of these salivary proteins.

"Trying to convince someone that a salad tastes great isn't going to work because to that person it doesn't taste great. Understanding with taste that we're dealing with something that's moveable is significant."

Think of this in an evolutionary context.

Bitter foods, for foragers, can serve as a sign of danger, but it's an unreliable predictor. Why look for another food source if there's something safe and abundant at hand?

"Instead of having the cognitive load of learning that a food is safe and having to maintain that memory, instead you know that eventually this bitter food will taste good," says Torregrossa. "It's an elegant physiological shift allowing you to put these foods into your diet."

For the study, Torregrossa trained to rats to choose from one of two water bottles after tasting a solution, to indicate whether it tasted bitter. Animal research in this case allows for tighter dietary control and the variation of specific proteins can be monitored in a way that's difficult to achieve with human participants.

"This is interesting because we're not asking, 'Do you like this?' we're looking only at 'Can you taste this as bitter?'" she says. "Animals with these bitter-induced salivary proteins turned on cannot taste the bitterness at higher concentrations than animals who do not have the same protein activated.

"Once these proteins are on board the bitter tastes like water. It's gone."

Torregrossa's work is an intriguing tactic in the obesity fight which sees many battles focusing on over-consumption of high-fat and high-sugar foods.

"The variation around sweets is very small," she says. "Nearly everyone likes a cupcake, but the variation around liking broccoli is enormous.

"This research helps explain why that variation with bitter food exists and how we can get more people to eat broccoli instead of cupcakes."
-end-


University at Buffalo

Related Obesity Articles:

How much do obesity and addictions overlap?
A large analysis of personality studies has found that people with obesity behave somewhat like people with addictions to alcohol or drugs.
Should obesity be recognized as a disease?
With obesity now affecting almost a third (29%) of the population in England, and expected to rise to 35% by 2030, should we now recognize it as a disease?
Is obesity associated with risk of pediatric MS?
A single-center study of 453 children in Germany with multiple sclerosis (MS) investigated the association of obesity with pediatric MS risk and with the response of first-line therapy in children with MS.
Women with obesity prior to conception are more likely to have children with obesity
A systematic review and meta-analysis identified significantly increased odds of child obesity when mothers have obesity before conception, according to a study published June 11, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS Medicine by Nicola Heslehurst of Newcastle University in the UK, and colleagues.
Obesity medicine association announces major updates to its adult obesity algorithm
The Obesity Medicine Association (OMA) announced the immediate availability of the 2019 OMA Adult Obesity Algorithm, with new information for clinicians including the relationship between Obesity and Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes Mellitus, Dyslipidemia, and Cancer; information on investigational Anti-Obesity Pharmacotherapy; treatments for Lipodystrophy; and Pharmacokinetics and Obesity.
Systematic review shows risk of a child developing overweight or obesity is more than trebled by maternal obesity prior to pregnancy
New research presented at this year's European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Glasgow, Scotland (April 28- May 1) reveals that the risk of a child becoming overweight or obese is more than trebled by maternal obesity prior to getting pregnant.
Eating later in the day may be associated with obesity
Eating later in the day may contribute to weight gain, according to a new study to be presented Saturday at ENDO 2019, the Endocrine Society's annual meeting in New Orleans, La.
How obesity affects vitamin D metabolism
A new Journal of Bone and Mineral Research study confirms that vitamin D supplementation is less effective in the presence of obesity, and it uncovers a biological mechanism to explain this observation.
Wired for obesity
In a multi-center collaboration, scientists at Children's Hospital Los Angeles and University of Cambridge discover a set of genes that help to establish brain connections governing body weight.
Sarcopenic obesity: The ignored phenotype
A new condition, that occurs in the presence of both sarcopenia and obesity and termed as ''sarcopenic obesity'', and that describes under the same phenotype the increase in body fat mass deposition, and the reduction in lean mass and muscle strength.
More Obesity News and Obesity Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

In & Out Of Love
We think of love as a mysterious, unknowable force. Something that happens to us. But what if we could control it? This hour, TED speakers on whether we can decide to fall in — and out of — love. Guests include writer Mandy Len Catron, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, musician Dessa, One Love CEO Katie Hood, and psychologist Guy Winch.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#542 Climate Doomsday
Have you heard? Climate change. We did it. And it's bad. It's going to be worse. We are already suffering the effects of it in many ways. How should we TALK about the dangers we are facing, though? Should we get people good and scared? Or give them hope? Or both? Host Bethany Brookshire talks with David Wallace-Wells and Sheril Kirschenbaum to find out. This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News. Related links: Why Climate Disasters Might Not Boost Public Engagement on Climate Change on The New York Times by Andrew Revkin The other kind...
Now Playing: Radiolab

An Announcement from Radiolab