People with a reduced ability to taste food choose sweeter — and likely higher-calorie — fare, thereby paving the way for gaining unhealthy weight, says a study. “We found that the more people lost sensitivity to sweetness, the more sugar they wanted in their foods,” said lead author Robin Dando, Assistant Professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. In this research published online by the journal Appetite, Dando temporarily dulled the taste buds of study participants and had them sample foods of varying sugar concentrations. For the blind tests, the researchers provided participants with an herbal tea with low, medium or high concentrations of a naturally occurring herb, Gymnema Sylvestre, which is known to temporarily block sweet receptors.
During the testing, participants added their favoured levels of sweetness to bland concoctions. The researchers found that those 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,” explained Dando. This can influence their eating habits to compensate for a lower taste response, he said. “The gustatory system — that is, the taste system we have — may serve as an important nexus in understanding the development of obesity. With this in mind, taste dysfunction should be considered as a factor,” Dando said.