Your 10,000 taste buds are replaced every 21 days, but after the age of 40 they are not replaced as efficiently, leaving a person with only about 5,000 taste buds and, unfortunately, a narrower preference for food choices. As a result, flavour enhancers in processed foods are not perceived as easily and we need to be extra vigilant.
Stick out your tongue and look in the mirror. All the bumps you see are called papillae (puh-pih-lee) and most of them contain taste buds.
Your 10,000 taste buds are replaced every 21 days, but after the age of 40 they are not replaced as efficiently, leaving a person with only about 5,000 taste buds and, unfortunately, a narrower preference for food choices.
Because those aged 40 or older can lose 70 percent of olfaction (smell of food) and 50 percent of taste buds, flavour enhancers in processed foods are not perceived as easily and we need to be extra vigilant.
Issue 25 of the research journal Chemical Senses (2000) published research that demonstrated perceptions of taste as “good” or “bad” are a learned behaviour. In some cultures, grilled meat is considered to be delectable, but in others, nauseating. Others may enjoy ice cream more but prefer to eat organic yogourt for the health of it. Taste is “culturally determined, not scientifically based,” states Nancy Butte, MD, professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine.
Teach Your Children Well
Consider this: Dr. W. Allan Walker, a professor of pediatrics and nutrition at Harvard Medical School, quotes a 2002 study which concluded that by age two, one in five babies is eating candy every day. The number-one vegetable for toddlers isn’t pureed peas or carrots–it’s French fries.
In 2005, the US National Health and Nutrition Survey reported that 26 percent of two- to five-year-olds are at risk of becoming overweight, and 14 percent are already overweight–up 35 percent since 2001. By the time they are two, 60 percent of toddlers eat some kind of pastry every day.
Miriam Weinstein, in The Surprising Power of Family Meals (Steerforth, 2005), states that when there are more family meals, teens consume 40 percent less soda and fried food and eat 60 percent more vegetables and fruit. Carolyn DeMarco, MD, says, “Young parents can change the way a generation eats. By the time a child is four, their taste buds’ preferences are set.”
21 Days to New Taste Buds
In Breaking the Food Seduction (St. Martin’s Press, 2003), taste experts Neal Barnard, MD, and Dr. Lawrence Katz of Duke University in North Carolina state that your taste buds have a memory of 21 days.
I convinced my father, “Papa Joe,” to switch from whole milk to organic skim milk on his oatmeal. At first the lower-fat skim milk seemed excessively watery and did not taste good to him. But after 21 days, skim milk tasted normal. Whenever he tried whole milk again, it seemed far too thick and fatty. In just 21 days, Papa Joe’s taste preference changed.
When you try to change or fine-tune your dietary pattern, you will have many whole-milk-to-skim-milk experiences to contend with. But after your taste buds adjust, your desire for processed, sweet, salty, heavy foods may just fade away.