A new study gives us some fascinating insights about fat gain, fat loss, and food deliciousness.
Eating is Good, Hyper-Eating is Bad
In his book, The End of Overeating, Dr. David Kessler writes about something he calls "hyperpalatable foods." Basically, these are processed foods designed to spark the reward system in the brain.
These junk foods are a carefully designed concoction of sugar, fat, and salt. Alone, those things aren't that powerful, but combine them and the sugar/fat/salt trio creates a feedback loop that leads to hyper-eating – it triggers cravings, makes you overeat, and leaves you wanting more, even when you're stuffed.
And now you know why donuts are so damn good: salted high-fat and high-sugar dough, fried in more fat, and topped with more sugar. Yeah, donuts are pretty much crack and sex combined.
Now, a new study shows that the end result of eating too many hyperpalatable foods – gaining fat – can even change how food tastes.
Researchers took a bunch of mice and got them fat. Then they studied their tiny little taste buds. The obese mice, surprisingly, had 25% FEWER taste buds than lean, sexy mice.
The researchers concluded that the inflammation that comes along with fat gain reduces the number of taste buds on your tongue. Human taste buds die and regenerate quickly; their average lifespan is just ten days. So this effect is reversible with weight loss. But if you keep gaining fat, you'll regenerate fewer and fewer taste buds.
What This Means to You
Talk to an obese guy and he'll often tell you that he, ironically, doesn't even enjoy food anymore. And now we know part of the reason why: food doesn't taste as good because he has fewer taste buds.
We can theorize that this is part of the reason why overweight people reach for increasingly salty, fatty, and sugary foods – those hyper-flavored foods taste normal to them. A lean person may find a banana sweet and an iced donut cloying, but an obese person wouldn't taste the natural sweetness in a piece of fruit and it wouldn't be satisfying.
For the not-obese person who enjoys one too many cheat meals, this could become a slippery slope. The fatter you get, the more sweetness you need to satisfy your "sweet tooth" and the harder it'll be to enjoy healthy foods. But as you lose body fat, you'll grow more taste buds and be more sensitive to healthy flavors.
Followers of the Velocity Diet® have reported similar effects: after the 28-day diet, healthy foods they didn't even like before began to taste delicious, making their fat loss more easily sustainable.
The Sweet Tooth, Weaponized
As an aside, many evolutionary biologists believe that the sweet tooth exists not to make you crave candy and kid cereal, but to make you enjoy sweeter foods like fruit.
It makes sense. If you didn't have a "receptor" for fruits, you wouldn't eat them and would miss out on those important nutrients and other goodies. Sadly, today the sweet tooth has been hijacked by refined sugars.
Make Healthy Food Taste Good Again
To me, this is yet another downside of cheat meals. The more you have, the less satisfaction you get out of nutritious foods. You may not lose 25% of your taste buds, but you could reduce them a little, then a little more as you gain body fat. Healthy foods will begin to taste worse, making losing that extra chub even more miserable.
The take-home message? Don't get fat. And don't become a cheat meal addict.
- Andrew Kaufman, Ezen Choo, Anna Koh, Robin Dando. Inflammation arising from obesity reduces taste bud abundance and inhibits renewal. PLOS Biology, 2018; 16 (3): e2001959 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.2001959