Today we’re bringing you 10 facts about taste buds you might not have known. A hint – the elementary school text books got it wrong!
This week I am doing a mindful eating exercise with the students in my Nutrition Support Group. We will be learning how to use our senses, including taste, to find out which food or food combinations, provide us with pleasure and satisfaction.
As I was preparing for this class, I realized how important our taste buds are for this lesson and that it is critical to know some information about our taste buds to support this exercise. This is information that will help anyone on an Intuitive Eating journey who is looking to make peace with food.
We forget, in our busy lives, to stop and use our sense of taste to make sure we are paying attention to what and how we eat, to savor the experience, and be mindful about our eating.
To help you understand more, below are 10 facts about taste buds that will help educate you to really taste the food, and find satisfaction and pleasure in eating – one of the Principles of Intuitive Eating.
- Our tongues have one or two receptors for sweet, but at least 24 for bitter. Why is this? Plants developed toxins that would poison us if we ingested them as a way to not get eaten, and we needed to develop many receptors to detect these toxins if we wanted to survive.
- The “tongue maps” that you may have seen in your elementary school science book are wrong; you taste everything all over your tongue.
- As of now, there are still five “tastes”: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami. However, researchers have recommended the addition of at least half a dozen additional tastes, including calcium and fat.
- Some flavors, such as vanilla, actually have no taste at all. If you pinch your nose shut, you will not even detect the vanilla on your tongue. Our nasal cavities contain about 400 types of receptors and control how we perceive flavor. Flavor is different from taste; we can taste sugar, but we cannot taste vanilla.
- Volatiles enhance the sweet message of our foods. Strawberries, for example, contain 30 volatiles. We interpret them as being sweeter than they actually are.
- Your first bite of a delicious food will always be the best. At the time of the first bite, dopamine is released in the brain’s reward system. The remaining bites will not compare to the first, because leptin reduces the activation of dopamine neurons in the mid-brain, thus reducing the reward value of sugar.
- Although both sugar and artificial sweeteners activate the primary taste pathway in the brain, artificial sweeteners do not elicit a significant response from several brain regions of the taste-reward system. Those of us who frequently drink diet soda might be unable to tell the difference between real sugar and artificial sweetener.
- Most of us have somewhere between 2,000 and 10,000 taste buds on our tongues. Those of us with more than 10,000 are “supertasters,” which makes vegetables taste unappealing and bitter, as well as making some desserts overwhelmingly sweet.
- There is something known as the “miracle fruit” and it makes limes and other bitter foods taste deliciously sweet. Tablets of the substance behind the miracle, miraculin, can be purchased online. An Indian herb, Gymnema sylvestre, on the other hand, blocks your sweet receptors for about 30 minutes, allowing the tastes of food that are usually blocked by their sweetness become super detectable, which is not always a pleasant experience.
- Using our taste buds can be a helpful sensory tool in learning to be mindful around our food choices. Finding satisfaction and pleasure in our meals is a key factor in learning to make peace with food.
When you are happier about your food choices and enjoy the eating experience, you create self-care habits that stick with you forever. They keep you off the path of not eating this food or that food, in hopes of improving your health. (Many people do not realize they are on diets … but yes, when you say to yourself, I am not eating “sugar”, “bread”, carbs or whatever the theme of the day is, you are, in fact, putting yourself on a diet and at some point you will crash.)
Studies have proven, restricting yourself is not sustainable; you have to build habits that make you feel good in your body and your mind — ones that stick forever.
If you want more help on this journey…
Review the taste bud list above and try to use them more in your eating and experience the food, enjoy the food. Food is meant to be enjoyed not feared. You might be surprised how satisfied you can feel from paying attention to what you eat and tasting the food. Really tasting it!
Looking for help on your journey?
Intuitive Eating Essentials for Midlife, Menopause and Beyond: This is a self-paced program that explores your relationship with food, your dieting history, readiness to integrate intuitive eating into your life, and teaches you how to use your values to make peace with food. This program is geared for women in Midlife, Menopause and Beyond with special lessons dedicated to how we change as we age and what role nutrition can play. Click here for all the details!
If you would like a more individualized approach to learning about mindful and intuitive eating, Reach out and book a free consult with me, or with one of our dietitians to get started.
Erica Leon is a Registered Dietitian and practices from a Health at Every Size (HAES®) lens. She is certified as an eating disorder specialist and is passionate about helping women at midlife, menopause and beyond to make peace with food and body image.
Erica is a highly sensitive nutrition therapist who takes the time to learn where you or your family are in the pursuit of health. Respectful of your individual needs and lifestyle, she will provide an honest assessment of whether or not you are a good fit to work together. Click here to schedule a 15-minute Discovery Call with Erica to let us know about your needs, and to see which of our Dietitians is the best fit for you!
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