Health Zone: The Two Minute Test That Predicts Obesity; New Research Shows the Number of Taste Buds Can Influence How Much You Eat. So Will Your Tongue Make You Tubby?

The Mirror (London, England), November 29, 2001 | Go to article overview

Health Zone: The Two Minute Test That Predicts Obesity; New Research Shows the Number of Taste Buds Can Influence How Much You Eat. So Will Your Tongue Make You Tubby?


Byline: HEATHER BERESFORD

IMAGINE being able to look into a crystal ball and see whether you are going to pile on the pounds in years to come.

Nutrition experts have discovered a simple home test which can predict just that.

It works by estimating the number of taste buds on your tongue ... the fewer you have, the more likely you are to become obese.

Just wipe some blue food colouring (from any supermarket) over your tongue with a cotton bud. Taste buds will absorb the dye, so if your tongue only turns a pale, patchy blue it means you don't have many taste buds and fall into the 'non-taster' category.

Astonishingly, one in four of us are non-tasters - and it's this group which is most at risk from obesity. They hardly taste their food and will happily wolf down anything.

So even if you're slim now, new research shows that you're more than likely to put on weight as you get older. "Research shows there's a strong association between non-tasters and weight problems," says Dr John Stanley, a nutrition scientist at Oxford University.

"People with fewer taste buds and less sensitivity to the taste of food also have a high body mass index and higher cholesterol levels than average."

People with lots of taste buds remain slim.

"Super-tasters, in contrast, are often thinner with a lower body mass index and healthier cholesterol levels," he says.

This group are extremely sensitive to taste and fussy about what they eat. In the taste-bud test their tongues will turn a deep blue, and they'll also notice their tongues are very bumpy - each tiny bump contains a number of taste buds.

When Karen Jones, 32, did our test she discovered that she's a super taster. Hardly surprising, since she works as a taster for Sainsbury's. "I've always been an incredibly picky eater," says Karen. "I detest most vegetables and things like mackerel make me retch because it's so oily. But I've never had to worry about my weight."

It might seem obvious that fussy eaters are thinner. But it's more complicated than that.

The number of taste buds on a tongue ranges hugely from 11 per square centimetre to 1,100. Each one has two nerves which carry information to the brain when we bite into something.

One transmits information about flavour - sweet, bitter, sour and salt. The other passes on messages about pain (from hot spices) and the texture of the food, such as oiliness. Our nose does the rest of the work, sending information about the odour of food. The combination of all this information is what we quite simply call taste. But it's the texture message which is thought to be crucial in weight control. A super-taster is a thousand times more sensitive to the texture of fat than a non-taster. That's why they'll often find themselves leaving half a cream cake, or feel repulsed by the oily texture of mackerel. Whereas a non-taster simply won't be able to 'taste' the fat. Dr Stanley believes this in-depth understanding of taste could help develop new cancer drugs. "Many powerful drugs taste awfully bitter, but we've now got the know-how to trick the taste buds and develop more palatable pills." One in four people have these incredibly sensitive tongues and while it can help keep the weight down, it also makes them fussy when it comes to eating healthy foods such as sprouts and broccoli which taste bitter to them. Children and pregnant women are super- tasters. This is thought to be a protective mechanism which stops curious children eating poisonous foods, and makes expectant mums aware of bitter tastes in any food which may be off and cause tummy upsets. The healthiest way to be is a medium taster, somewhere between a super-taster and a non-taster. Around 50 per cent of us fall into this category which means you'll happily eat most foods. But your sense of taste will be good enough to detect a high fat content, so you'll find it easy to be careful about what you eat. …

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