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Sense of Taste Deceptively Simple continued...

In fact, researchers at Yale University, led by Linda A. Bartoshuk, PhD, have discovered that about 35% of white women and 15% of white men are "supertasters," people with an exaggerated sense of taste, compared with the rest of us mortals. These souls inhabit a more limited food universe because their sense of taste is so much more intense. For one thing, they tend to eat fewer bitter vegetables, the kinds that are thought to ward off cancer. On the good side, supertasters also spurn fatty foods more often and thus develop less heart disease.

"Fast food," Bartoshuk tells WebMD, "does not physically affect taste buds, but it may affect appetite and food preferences."

Learned Eating Behavior

Why can no known salad hold a candle to a basket of waffle fries for some people? Whether a person's sense of taste prefers salty or sweet may be genetic, Pelchat says. A recent study in Pediatrics showed that these preferences may be built starting at birth. Babies fed with soy formula (bitter and sour) were more tolerant of sour taste and aroma than kids who slurped down the bland, cereal-tasting formula more often fed to babies. Babies also showed a preference for tastes that came through in the mother's breast milk.

Monell also studies sense of taste in twins, seeing if they end up with the same preferences. But which sensitivity would trigger which reaction is the question. "You might think someone with more bitter receptors would end up hating bitter," she says, "but that isn't always the case."

Witherly says the more overweight people are, the more their response to sugar is blunted. "You need more and more to get the same high," he says. Incidentally, another study, done at the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, showed that putting intense-tasting substances called "tastants" on food caused dieters to lose more weight than those who ate unamped portions. The tastants, researchers speculated, may have made the dieters feel full sooner.

"People like that they are used to," Pelchat concludes. "If you are used to tastes high in sugar and salt, that is what you expect."

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