It is National Nutrition Month and time to Savor the Flavor of healthy eating.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics helps us to celebrate healthy eating by reminding us it doesn’t have to be boring.
We can enjoy healthy eating without giving up flavor!
Let’s begin by understanding how our taste buds influence how we savor the flavor and find ways to tickle our taste buds for health.
Our Taste Buds
Taste buds are actually an organ that perceives taste located on our tongue.
Our taste buds are comprised of taste receptor cells that detect chemicals from the foods and beverages we put in our mouths.
The taste buds are embedded in the epithelium of the tongue. Each taste bud has a pore that contains sensory neurons, or nerve cells, that send information to the brain.
Our tongues have between 2,000 and 8,000 taste buds with hundreds of thousands of receptor cells.
As we age, our taste buds don’t get replaced. Therefore, older adults have fewer taste buds.
Smoking can also reduce your number of taste buds.
Different people have a different number of taste buds, which can explain why two people can taste the same food differently.
Each taste bud receptor is programmed to respond to specific chemical stimuli, which is why there is such diversity in reactions to sweet, salty, sour, and bitter tastes.
Discovering Taste Buds
Democritus, the Greek philosopher, thought that our foods were broken down during chewing into these four taste sensations and each had a definite shape: sweet-round and large, salty-triangle, bitter-spherical and small, and sour-large and angular.
Much later Ikeda, a Japanese chemist, studied the taste found in dashi a seaweed soup common in Japan. He felt the flavor did not fall into one of these four groups so studied it to determine the taste was a result of glutamic acid, which he called umami (delicious in Japanese).
After 100 years, scientists began to recognize that Ikeda was correct and agree there is a fifth taste when glutamate is present –umami.
It is also a commonly held belief that different portions of the tongue hold specific taste sensations, but this has been disproven as we learn that each separate taste bud has the ability to sense each different taste.
It is true that we respond visually to the food we prepare and serve. We have a sense of comfort and joy when our food looks appealing however we want to savor the flavor!
How can we capitalize on the five tastes and keep our food healthy too?
It can be done!
What Foods Tickle Our Taste Buds?
Here are the 5 taste sensations our taste buds detect and some foods where we find them:
- Sucrose, better known as sugar
- Foods containing sugar, such as candy and sweets
- Cooked vegetables, especially beets and carrots
- Acids react to produce a sour taste
- Ascorbic acid, citric acid, acetic acid added to foods
- Pickled or fermented foods, such as sauerkraut and kimchi
- Some berries
- Sourdough bread
- Salt-sodium chloride
- Foods with salt/sodium added
- Salted, cured meats, and fish
- Asian sauces such as soy and teriyaki
- Snack foods with salt toppings, such as pretzels, chips and crackers
- Mineral salts
- Pickled foods
- Sea vegetables like kelp and seaweed
- Greens such as dandelion, chicory, kale and escarole
- Quinine found in tonic water
- Dark chocolate
- Glutamate found in MSG (mono sodium glutamate)
- Processed meats and cheeses
- Fish and shellfish
- Chinese cabbage
- Green tea
Tips for Savoring the Flavor
There are things we can do to make adjustments in our current eating habits that will help up savor the flavor for a lifetime of health.
- Don’t overcook the vegetables!
Chefs know foods that are the most pleasing and savory have the flavor of the particular food shining through. It can’t just be cooked asparagus but must taste of asparagus. Overcooking foods to the point of loss of flavor will not please your taste buds.
- Serve the food hot!
If soup or entrees designed to be served hot are served at room temperature or allowed to cool down waiting to be served, the flavor will not pique the taste buds for full effect. Warm flavors are “one dimensional” and certainly not savory.
- Add all taste sensations to each meal!
Covering all the bases with the tastes we serve will help us to savor the flavor in our meals and keep our brains stimulated with the variety. Adding a squeeze of lemon or a pungent spice can help satisfy receptors in our brains to avoid overeating later when cravings for what was missed at the meal arise.
- Get creative!
Spice up your favorite recipes and meals with new flavors that can perk up your taste buds. We tend to fall into a rut eating the same foods over and over. If we add some new items and new tastes, we can increase our flavor savoring!
- Savor the freshness!
Add more fresh foods to your meals. Raw fruits and vegetables, steamed vegetables and stir fry recipes that won’t lose their taste can improve the flavor sensations in your meals.
- Allow time for your taste buds to accept the new flavors!
Changing our meals from the usual routine, especially lowering the sodium in favor of more seasonings from your spice rack, sometimes takes a little time to appreciate. Your taste buds are used to a certain stimulus.
Don’t abandon a new way of tasting before your taste buds have a chance to get with the program. Once you reduce the sodium and fat in favor of the five taste sensations you will really appreciate the fresh flavor of new foods.
Let’s celebrate National Nutrition Month and Savor the Flavor as we improve our health through nutrition.