A Comment on Changing What We Taste in Food

Link to article on the science of taste

This post of mine is a reply to a story about changing the tastes we perceive as we eat and the work being done to see if changing what we taste can lead to healthier food choices.

I posted this in the journal’s comment section but I tend to get my comments blocked because I either mention where readers can find more information or am too critical of the writers and their naivety.

Here’s my view:

I can’t help feeling that this is paddling around in the shallow end of the pool.

We have taste drives for sweet, fat, roasted/toasted notes (Maillard products) and micronutrients and while they determine some of what we eat, they have no association to healthy food choices.

There are reasons for these as I point out in my book, Wild Foods; Looking back 60,000 years for clues to our future survival. They are the relationship between wild foods and our biochemistry.

Forage for sweetness and you typically find wild honey loaded with amino acids, tannins and waxes in a multi-sugar syrup or you get a dose of vitamins and fibre from freshly picked, ripe fruits. You also expend a heap of energy. Compare this to a single Oreo cream cookie which delivers bad sugars and enough energy that you would have to run up 40 flights of stairs in order to ‘burn it all off’ (we actually breathe it out, not burn it up but that’s another story).

Hunt for fat or gather tree nuts and you get a plethora of other nutrients from protein to fat (and water) soluble vitamins, good fats and more exercise.

Cook your food and the greater bioavailability of nutrients compared to uncooked foods allowed our brains to evolve to the size and energetically demanding stature it has today. This single drive moved as away from the apes but closer to our extinction as we fiddle with our foods and make them more lethal every decade. I fear that manufacturers boosting flavour for non-tasters will be a step in this direction.

And finally, the drive for micro-nutrients….

I have been out bush with my Aboriginal aunties and asked them what’s on the menu today? One time we went off for mud to eat. Why? Well some of the teenage girls with us and a few of the older women needed to make themselves feel better and the mud would help. Off we went to a mud rise behind the mangrove forests and we collected a fine, grey clay which tasted a little like Aktavite® (an up-market Milo®) or chocolate flavoured drinking powder enriched with minerals. The thing is that on analysis, this clay was loaded with iron, zinc, copper, magnesium, manganese and more. It was a highly bioavailable mineral supplement with the minerals bound to the organics that formed the clay. The perfect form for essential trace minerals so necessary for our biochemistry. This was a clear taste drive for micronutrients for prementrual and menopausal symptoms in women who still noticed their nutritional needs and could tie them to satiating foods.

It appears that we keep eating modern rubbish foods with their dwindling nutritional value in a vain hunt for micronutrients. When we don’t find antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, anti-allergens, anti-proliferatives, adaptogens, live enzymes and enzyme regulators, good sugars and minerals in a Big Mac, meat pie or fries we are driven to eat until we find what will satiate our micronutrient drive.

Or we get fat trying.

There doesn’t seem much value in tinkering about with flavours in the mouth when our menu selections are more neural, biochemical and microbial.

The neural and biochemical drives involve the bad sugar, fructose and its related chemical metabolite, uric acid (yes, the same one implicated in gout and some kidney stones). If we eat too much of the bad sugars (fructose and sucrose) uric acid goes up; leptin resistance rises; and this tells our brain to eat more fructose. Other hormones are involved including insulin, cortisol, ghrelin and various others and all of them drive us to store fat.

And lastly, our gut flora secrete chemicals that reflect the quality of their foods and direct our brains to choose more of these foods, whether they are healthy of not for us. The bugs are looking out for themselves.

I guess manufacturers are also just doing the same.



Vic Cherikoff