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"Personal Taste" Explained
By Don Bennett, DAS

People have personal tastes in clothes, personal tastes in art, and members of one gender have personal tastes in members of the other gender. These tastes are somewhat subjective, but what about personal taste when it comes to food? It seems this kind of personal taste has a lot to do with the hardwiring in our brain, and the condition of our taste sensing mechanisms… in-other-words, it has less to do with preference, and more to do with physiology.

I'm sure you've noticed how some people find what you like to eat not to their liking, and some things that other people love to eat, you find distasteful. Many simply call this, "personal taste", but what exactly is personal taste when it comes to food? What accounts for me making yummy noises when eating a durian (tropical fruit), while others think it is the most vile thing they've ever tasted?

Your nose and your tongue dictate how something tastes to you. First let's talk about the 10,000 taste buds that call your tongue home. But to get a thorough understanding of why there exists such a vast difference in the way people perceive the same food, taste-wise, we need to look even closer. What are taste buds made of? Cells; each bud containing approximately 75 cells, therefore 75,000 taste receptors stand at the ready to make you go "yum" or "yuk". Your nose has cells that are responsible for foods' flavor too; in fact about 80% of "taste" is the nose's job. Now on to the "personal" in personal taste.

Your body has trillions of cells, each one responsible for a specific task. The cells of your retina sense light, the cells of the Islets of Langerhans in your pancreas make insulin, and the cells of your taste buds react to the different flavors of foods; sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. If one particular cell isn't operating properly, the body function it's responsible for will be adversely affected, but to such a tiny degree, you wouldn't notice. But if most or all of the cells responsible for that function aren't operating the way they were designed to operate, that function won't be "right" and something will be "off". The cells of your taste buds, and therefore your sense of taste, adheres to this law of health.

You don't need much of an imagination to understand why a cigarette smoker's sense of taste can be way off; the smoke affects the taste bud cells not only directly, but indirectly as well. The indirect effect is because the smoke's tars, nicotines, and other substances wreak havoc with the body, affecting all the body's cells, including the cells of the taste buds and nose "buds". Similarly, if someone is engaging in any habit that is unnatural, the body's cells will be affected accordingly. Abuse of the human body is not restricted to cigarette smoking; other lifestyle habits negatively affect cells too. Consuming alcoholic beverages, recreational and prescription drugs, and damaged food (cooked food), will negatively impact your cells; some cells more than others… taste bud cells for example.

Being that your sense of taste can be a marker of overall health, I use taste as a test of one's relative state of health. When I get a new client, they want to know what tests I will have them take to determine their current level of health. Sure, there are a few blood tests, but not many that are truly meaningful. But I've found that a test that is very telling is the taste test. I have them eat some good durian (I say "good" because if I give them some bad tasting durian they will of course not like it, and neither would I). If they think the durian tastes sort of okay, then that's an encouraging sign. If they think it's disgusting, then that's a sign that their health is not in good shape for some reason.

Many people who have transitioned from an unhealthy lifestyle to a healthy one report the following: foods (that the human body is not designed for) that once tasted delicious now don't, and the foods (of one's biological design) that in the past didn't taste so good, now taste great! Why? Because the taste bud cells can regain their normal functionality when the body's health improves. This is why people who are beginning to adopt healthy habits need to keep trying the natural foods they at one time didn't like… they'll likely find their tastes changing in favor of the flavors they're designed to experience.

Another factor that contributes to how food tastes to you is the taste buds' sensitivity. Here's a test you can try at home: After waking up, and before eating anything, take a bite out of a nice, sweet, ripe banana. Then put it down and take a bite out of a sweet candy bar. Chew it good, making sure it spends a lot of "face time" with your tongue. Then spit it out, and take another bite out of that banana. Interesting how it tasted sweet a moment ago, but now it doesn't taste as sweet. What this demonstrates is how your taste buds can be desensitized. If day after day, year after year, you eat foods that are loaded with refined sweeteners, you won't be able to enjoy the natural sweetness of Nature's natural candy: fruit.

Why are processed foods so much sweeter than natural foods? It's simple: Humans are programmed to seek out the sweetest foods. This fact is not lost on the processed food industry. If the sweetness of the sweetest fruit is 100 on a scale of 1 to 100, food manufacturers design their "food" to be 150 on the same scale. That's why if you give a toddler a choice between a piece of sweet mango and a piece of sweet candy, after sampling both, he'll go for the candy every time, because that's how our brains are wired. And that's how companies take advantage of our sweet tooth. And by-the-way, a sweet tooth is a very normal, natural thing to have, so you needn't apologetically admit you have one. And as long as we've gone off-topic for a moment, you should know that naturally sweet foods such as fruit (simple carbs) are an optimal source of clean burning fuel for us (as opposed to complex carbs which are not naturally sweet to the tongue).

The desensitizing of our taste buds by abnormally tasty processed food isn't restricted to sweetness; the same goes for salty as well. But natural food's saltiness is a more subtle taste than sweetness, so if you eat salty junk food, or worse, if you add salt to your food, you are never going to taste the natural saltiness in natural foods. And, over time, you'll likely have to salt your meals to be able to taste them at all. But fear not, you can re-sensitize your taste buds simply by avoiding unnaturally sweet and salty items.

A discussion of taste would not be complete without mentioning two other things:

1. Organically grown food tastes better than food grown with pesticides. Organic farmers tend to care more about their soil's health, and this translates into higher quality produce, nutrient-wise. And the more nutritious the food, the better it tastes. [Note: This used to be more true than today. When "organically grown" became big business, they were grown by many of the same growers who grew conventionally grown crops who did not care as much about the quality of their soils.]

2. You can judge how yummy a particular food is by the yummy noises you make when you eat them. Now that my taste buds are back to the way they were when I was a toddler, when I eat a delicious mango or scrumptious durian, I make yummy noises, the likes of which I never made when I ate the processed foods that most people describe as being "out of this world"; and that says something about the power-to-pleasure that the foods on Nature's menu possess.

So remember, when it comes to food, personal taste isn't just affected by your use of condiments, it's greatly influenced by your lifestyle habits, including diet, sleep, sunshine, stress, physical activity, toxins, and hydration. The healthier you live, the healthier your taste buds will be. And the healthier your taste buds are, the more sensitive your sense of taste, and so the tastier life can be!

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