We have receptors on our tongue that can detect the taste of something sweet, salty, sour, bitter and savory, but what about fat? It looks like fat may be joining the ranks as a taste the tongue can sense and respond to, and, according to new research, this may explain why some people crave fatty foods.
Does a Taste for Fat Contribute to Obesity?
Researchers from the Washing University School of Medicine have identified a receptor on the tongue that senses the taste of fat. Just as you taste salt when you pop a salty peanut in your mouth, this receptor senses fat, but it does so to varying degrees depending upon the individual. This may partially explain why some people eat too many high-fat foods and become overweight or obese.
Researchers asked a group of 21 obese volunteers to taste test three different solutions. All of the solutions were similar in texture but only one contained fat. They discovered that volunteers who made more of the CD36 protein were more sensitive to the “taste” of fat. A link between CD36 protein levels and sensitivity to fat has also been demonstrated in mice where it not only affects their preference for fatty foods but also plays a role in how well they digest high-fat foods. In mice, the amount of CD36 a mouse produces is affected by diet. Mice that eat a high-fat diet make less CD36 and have fewer taste receptors that are sensitive to fat.
How Might This Influence Weight Control and Obesity?
As the researchers in this study point out, eating a high-fat diet may reduce the number of CD36 receptors humans make. This would make them less sensitive to the fat they eat, and they would need to consume more to feel satisfied. Not surprisingly, this leads to weight gain. It also appears that genetics partially determines how many of these fatty taste receptors an individual is able to make. Mice that lack the ability to make CD36 receptors lose their desire to eat fatty foods, and have more difficulty digesting fat.
Will a Low-Fat Diet Help You Stay Slim?
This study would suggest that the best way to eliminate cravings for fatty food is to cut back on the amount of fat in your diet. A lower fat diet should increase the number of CD36 receptors you have, making you more sensitive to fat and satisfied with eating less of it. On the other hand, replacing fat with processed carbohydrates that are rapidly absorbed isn’t the answer since this leads to insulin spikes that promote fat storage.
The Bottom Line?
If this research holds true, eating a high-fat diet may trigger cravings for more fat and lead to a cycle of over-consumption for some people. To reduce cravings for fatty foods, keep the fat content of your diet at no higher than 30% of your total calories, and choose healthier sources of fat like monounsaturated fats in olive oil and nuts and omega-3 fats in fatty fish. Go light on saturated fats, and avoid trans fats entirely. Watch your carbs too. Choose more antioxidant-rich vegetables as a replacement for potatoes, rice and pasta, and select whole-grain bread in lieu of bread made with white flour. Combine that with a lean source of protein at every meal, and you have a recipe for eating healthy.
Science Daily. “Blame Your Taste Buds for Liking Fat: Receptor for Tasting Fat Identified in Humans”