Are you averse to the bitter taste of broccoli, finding yourself turning your nose up at Brussell sprouts, or constantly put off by pungent cabbage? Researchers suggest that your dislike for some flavours comes down to the proteins in your saliva… and they believe that changing your diet could actually change your taste preferences.
“By changing your diet, you might be able to change your flavor experience of foods that at one point tasted nasty to you,” said Cordelia Running, a Ph.D from Purdue University.
While primarily an aide in digestion, saliva also contains thousands of proteins that bind flavours and taste receptors on our tongues. Running suggests that some of these proteins, namely proline-rich proteins, bind to flavours that cause less desirable tastes and experiences, such as bitterness and dryness, and hence create negative sensations when eating many typically ‘bitter’ foods.
“If we can change the expression of these proteins, maybe we can make the ‘bad’ flavours like bitterness and astringency weaker,” says Running.
Running and her team have already carried out research in an attempt to prove our ability to change the behaviour of these proteins, and in turn our resulting tolerance to different flavours. The researchers asked participants of a study to drink chocolate almond milk 3 times a day, for one week, rating its bitterness. As the week drew on, the rating of bitterness lowered, in direct correlation to an increase in proline-rich proteins.
“We think the body adapts to reduce the negative sensation of these bitter compounds,” Running explains.
Subject to further research, it seems that much like training in the gym, ‘pushing through the pain’ could yield some sincere health benefits. The findings also hold significant importance when it comes to influencing healthy eating behaviour in larger populations. If individuals are able to essentially ‘train’ themselves to eat healthy in the period of only one week, then a whole host of preventable diseases that develop from poor diet can be avoided.
“Those choices then influence exposure to flavours, which over time may stimulate altered expression of saliva proteins, and the circle begins anew. Maybe this knowledge will help someone stick to a healthier diet long enough to adapt to like it (sic).”