Is Fast Food Killing Our Sense of Taste?
Your sense of taste is being barraged by the loads of salt, fat, and sugar found in double cheeseburgers, waffle fries, and milkshakes.
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."
From Ridiculous to the Sublime
The Sept. 6, 2004, issue of The New Yorker was devoted to stories
and articles rhapsodizing about food and its potentially seductive intricacies.
- "There is damn little contentment in humanity today," said one
organic farmer. "And most of that is because our food has no contentment
- This same farmer brews vats of nutrient "teas" made of crushed
oyster shells, sea salt, volcanic rock, and molasses and sends it through his
irrigation systems. Some days, he sends the plants an infusion of lavender.
"A plant doesn't wear dark glasses or anything," this man is quoted as
saying. "It will just sit there in its nakedness and show you how it's
- In another article, the science of ketchup is painstakingly outlined. Even
this fast food staple contains high science and maddeningly subtle variations
of mouth and nose sensations.
Rejuvenating Your Sense of Taste
According to Witherly, people can break the fast food, smushy,
always-the-same habit. "I don't say get off salt and sugar cold
turkey," he says. "But how about just getting off refined sugar,
sucrose, and especially high-fructose corn syrup? These increase insulin and
lead to fat storage."
Other suggestions to aid your sense of taste:
- Don't give up carbs, but do stick with complex carbs like whole grains and
- Don't be afraid to use artificial sweeteners. They can increase
- Try to cut back on salt. At least don't salt before tasting. Or take the
shaker off the table. In a week to a month, tops, your old level of saltiness
will taste terrible to you.
- Try salt substitutes such as Parmesan cheese, yeast extracts, or soy
- The body craves variety; fast food places don't have enough of it. Some
people know the menu by heart. Try for high-volume foods, like salads, that
fill you up with less calorie density.
- Kick the saturated fat habit. Most commercial fries are sizzled in beef
fat. Stick with olive oil, fish oils, and flax oils. These are less likely,
Witherly says, to be stored as fat in the body.
- And eat slowly. There is even a movement called Slow Food devoted to