You Can Train Your Taste Buds To Stop Asking For Sugar
When those cravings for chocolate, cookies and ice cream kick in, it feels like a battle not worth fighting. You’re bound to lose, succumbing to the entire bar, bag or pint and feeling annoyed with your indulgence later, right? Not so fast. Recent studies have given us new insight into how our taste buds react to different flavor components — and what that means for those trying to successfully wean themselves off of the sweet stuff.
First things first, let’s walk through all of the different tastes your tongue recognizes independently. Your taste buds register sweetness, saltiness, sourness, bitterness, umami, fat and starch. Biologically speaking, most people are sensitive to sourness and bitterness because evolution has taught our bodies that too much of these flavors means whatever we’re ingesting could be dangerous or poisonous in some way. The rest of the flavors, however, trigger an opposing sensor that says, “Oh, this is fuel my body wants and needs. Bring it on!” This response is especially strong for sugar.
While your genetics do partially determine how sensitive you are to sugar (thanks, Mom), environmental factors like your adolescent eating patterns and your present-day eating habits play an essential role as well. For example, if you grew up snacking on processed sweets and typically eat a lot of sugar on a day-to-day basis now, your ability to sense the sweetness of your food has likely dulled. Therefore, as you eat it, your taste buds signal to your brain that what you’ve had still isn’t enough and you need more. The vicious cycle of craving sweets continues until you just give in… or so we thought.
A 2016 study published in The American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition observed what happened to participants’ sweetness sensitivity when they reduced their daily sugar consumption by 40 percent for three months. Compared to the control group of participants who continued eating whatever they wanted throughout the duration of the study, the sugar reduction group was able to pick up on an intensified sweetness in the reduced-sugar puddings and beverages they consumed. That means that by reducing their intake, they naturally regained a more refined sense of taste for sugar and, therefore, didn’t need as much to satisfy their needs.
The study is limited by its small sample size, and those same people who eventually went back to following their old dietary habits dulled their sugar senses all over again, but it shows that if you adhere to a sugar reduction (which is very different from outright elimination) for an extended period of time, your body will adjust course. Sure, that takes some willpower up front and fighting cravings that arrive in the meantime, but there is a light at the end of that tunnel. And most of us just need to know that it’s there before committing to getting started.