You Can Reprogram Your Mouth to Like Bitter Flavors

It doesn’t matter how old you get; there are some tastes you don’t like. It’s not a case of maturity or having a sophisticated palate — your taste buds simply don’t enjoy them. This can be a real problem when you are trying to eat healthily. The good news is, your flavor preferences aren’t genetic. They are a product of habit and your saliva reacting to foods in specific ways that can be altered.

On the blog for our sister supplement, Glucocil, we have written in the past about masking the flavor of vegetables that you don’t like. But, researchers have found that you can train yourself into liking bitter veggies and other bitter foods. This is excellent news for anyone who wants to enjoy vegetables without needing sauces or recipes to cover the taste. Especial as the most bitter greens are so good for us, like Brussels sprouts, kale arugula, radishes, cabbage and — one of the most ubiquitous veggies around — broccoli. Even though broccoli is the most popular vegetable in 47 percent of the country, many people hate the flavor.

Proteins in saliva change when exposed to bitterness repeatedly. Using mice that were bred with those altered proteins, researchers found that the animals couldn’t taste the flavor. It wasn’t that they liked the bitter flavor, it was that they couldn’t sense it. “What you eat creates the signature in your salivary proteome, and those proteins modulate your sense of taste,” said Ann-Marie Torregrossa, an assistant professor in Univ. of Buffalo’s Department of Psychology and the associate director of the Center for Ingestive Behavior Research. So, while they could taste the other flavors of the food, the bitterness was gone. “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.”

Unfortunately, while this means that you can change your perception of the foods, the researchers don’t know how many times you would have to eat them before your saliva and preferences changed. “Our data doesn’t provide a number, such as 12 servings of broccoli,” said Prof. Torregrossa. “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.

As children grow their brains like foods with “energy return and replenishment,” meaning salt and sugar. We are not primed to like bitter foods, especially as bitterness can be a sign that a food is poisonous. Vegetables generally don’t contain sugar and salt. Therefore, children shy away from them. This leads to never altering the proteins necessary to enjoy the flavor of the veggie beyond the bitter components. However, vegetables hold many healthy nutrients. As we grow older, we recognize the necessity of eating our greens. Hopefully, if you don’t like them, knowing that you can train your mouth not to taste the bitterness will make eating them bearable.
August 23, 2019
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