Clafoutis with cherries from the garden, crème brûlée straight from the oven, juicy home-grown tomatoes, farm-fresh goat’s cheese … for most of us, these delicious foods evoke unforgettable flavours and considerable pleasure. Yet it seems that half of all Europeans (1) may be unable to appreciate the full intensity of their flavour.
A study published in the journal PLOS Biology shows that excess body fat, which now affects half the population in the West, significantly reduces the number of taste buds present on the tongue, reducing the ability to taste.
This loss of taste may contribute to eating disorders in overweight individuals by encouraging them to consume nutritionally-poor processed foods containing multiple flavour-enhancers (flavourings, salt, monosodium glutamate, etc.).
The authors of the study compared the outcome of two groups of mice: one fed a ‘normal’ diet composed of 14% fatty acids, and the other a high-fat diet with 58% fatty acids.
After monitoring them for eight weeks, they noted that the high-fat diet mice had gained a significant amount of weight, as they had expected. However, the researchers were surprised to observe a loss of around 25% in the number of taste buds present on the animals’ tongues.
They were able to confirm that this was not a direct result of the fat in their food since mice fed the same diet but genetically-resistant to obesity experienced no such decrease. Only those animals that had put on weight saw a fall in numbers of their taste buds. It was therefore the accumulation of excess weight that was responsible for this unexpected effect.
The researchers suspected that it was inflammation induced by the surplus fat which had caused the reduction in taste buds. Excess weight is now recognised as being associated with chronic inflammation: adipose tissue continuously produces pro-inflammatory cytokines (cell-signalling molecules) such as tumour necrosis factor (TNFα). And it was precisely this cytokine that the researchers found in abundance around the taste buds of the overweight mice.
To confirm their theory, they selected individual mice genetically incapable of producing TNFα cytokines, and made them put on weight. Despite this weight gain, these animals did not experience a reduction in the number of their taste buds. What’s more, when the researchers injected the tongues of lean mice with TNFα cytokines, they observed a decrease in these animals’ taste buds despite their low body fat. It is therefore the production of TNFα by body fat which disrupts the taste buds’ maintenance and renewal mechanisms.
The good news is that losing weight appears to reverse this effect.
The bad news is that losing weight is already difficult and only gets harder when the ability to taste is diminished. What’s more, taste buds seem to decrease inexorably over time …
The consequences of diminished taste ability may be more significant than you might think. Those affected tend to unconsciously prioritise foods that are high in salt or full of flavour-enhancers in an effort to achieve the same taste sensation and pleasure as before. It’s an insidious process which gradually results in a growing addiction to these products which are usually highly-processed and conducive to weight gain. Eventually, it can even lead to deficiency in micronutrients such as vitamins and trace-elements, exacerbating both the problems of excess weight and of flavour appreciation.
Take the decision to finally lose weight. Obesity can be the result of constantly putting off the decision to slim down. It’s a fact that the more fat we accumulate, the harder it is to get rid of. Especially as weight gain gives rise to factors such as loss of taste, incompatibility with physical activity, and inflammatory pain, all of which encourage the body to maintain and store new fats … So it’s important to get on and break free from this vicious circle, which affects more than one in two Europeans.
To do so, you need to take back control with an effective programme that embraces all credible approaches: a gradual return to exercise, adoption of healthier behaviour in terms of sleep and stress, abandoning poor dietary habits, and supporting your efforts with specific plant-source supplements (especially standardised ones such as Garcinia cambogia or Weight Loss Formula), as well as with soluble fibre (Organic Acacia) to help you achieve the sensation of satiety … It’s the collective effect of all these measures, coupled with a strong commitment on your part, that will see you win the battle once and for all.
And if you’re still hesitant about ‘taking the plunge’, you should know that loss of taste is just one of the many negative effects of gaining weight. These include excessive perspiration, shortness of breath, decreased fertility, gallstones and acid-reflux, as well as more serious problems such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes (9 out of 10 type 2 diabetics have a weight problem (2)), increased risk of at least 13 types of cancer (particularly those related to the digestive system) and dementia, as well as a shorter life expectancy (up to 10 years shorter in the case of significant excess weight) (3-4) … the list is as long as your arm.
Choose top quality raw ingredients with a stronger taste. If you feel the need to add lots of salt to your dishes because you find them too bland, or can’t resist processed products because they appear tastier, it’s undoubtedly because you’re neglecting to use raw foods with a more pronounced flavour such as spices, fresh herbs, fermented cheeses, citrus fruit, and smoked fish. Until such time as your sense of taste is fully restored, make moderate use of these foods and put the flavour back into your cooking.
Increase your intake of zinc. Zinc is a trace-element which is essential for activating gustin, an enzyme involved in the mechanisms controlling taste. A lack of zinc can thus impair perception of taste. In fact, average zinc intake among the over-50s is only 69% of the recommended daily amount (5). That’s why consuming zinc-rich foods (such as seafood, offal, pumpkin and sesame seeds, and pulses) and taking zinc supplements such as L-OptiZinc®, can be an effective way of compensating for decreases in taste (6).
Whatever you do, don’t fall into the ‘salt trap’: salt is a compound which radically alters our neural circuits, necessitating ever greater amounts to achieve the same effects (How salt modifies our taste receptors and behaviour).
The study at the centre of this article
Andrew Kaufman, Ezen Choo, Anna Koh, Robin Dando. Inflammation arising from obesity reduces taste bud abundance and inhibits renewal. PLOS Biology, 2018; 16 (3): e2001959 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.2001959
References1. Eurostat – Communiqué de presse (octobre 2016) - http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/documents/2995521/7700908/3-20102016-BP-FR.pdf/6a7f5689-11b2-4862-8b29-d5bf59795b87
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