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Dulled taste

Dulled taste may increase calorie intake leading to obesity

Nutritionists, researchers and doctors have long suspected a connection between diminished taste sensitivity and obesity, but no one had tested if losing taste altered intake

Researchers at Cornell University have reported that people with a diminished ability to taste food choose sweeter, and likely higher-calorie. food leading them to gain weight. Lead author, Dr Robin Dando, assistant professor of food science, and colleagues temporarily dulled the taste buds of study participants and had them sample foods of varying sugar concentrations. The study showed that for a regular, sugary 16-ounce soft drink, a person with a 20 percent reduction in the ability to taste sweet would crave an extra teaspoon of sugar to reach an optimal level of sweetness, as compared to someone with unaltered taste response.

"We found that the more people lost sensitivity to sweetness, the more sugar they wanted in their foods," said Dando. The study, ‘Participants with pharmacologically impaired taste function seek out more intense, higher calorie stimuli’, was published in the journal Appetite.

Nutritionists, researchers and doctors have long suspected a connection between diminished taste sensitivity and obesity, but no one had tested if losing taste altered intake.  In this study, 51 healthy subjects were treated with varying concentrations of a tea containing Gymnema sylvestre (GS), to temporarily and selectively diminish sweet taste perception or a control tea. Following treatment in the four testing sessions, taste intensity ratings for various sweet stimuli were captured on the generalized Labeled Magnitude Scale (gLMS), liking for real foods assessed on the hedonic gLMS, and optimal level of sweetness quantified via an ad-libitum mixing task. Data were analysed with mixed models assessing both treatment condition and each subject's resultant sweet response with various taste-related outcomes, controlling for covariates.

The outcome showed that without realising it, those participants with their taste receptors blocked began to prefer higher concentrations of sugar, gravitating to 8 to 12 percent sucrose. Soft drinks are generally around 10 percent sugar.

Overall, they noted that GS treatment diminished sweet intensity perception (p<0.001), reduced liking for sweet foods (p<0.001) and increased the desired sucrose content of these foods (p<0.001). Regression modeling revealed a 1% reduction in sweet taste response was associated with a 0.40g/L increase in optimal concentration of sucrose (p<0.001).

"That's not a coincidence," said Dando. "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.”

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

"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," concluded Dando. 

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