Robin Trimingham

How your taste buds can affect your diet

  • Tongue tied: we are born with 9,000 taste buds but between the ages of 40 and 50 they begin to decrease in number

This past week while rummaging around in a kitchen drawer I came across a stack of recipe cards for meals that I used to prepare on a regular basis in the 1980s.

Glancing through them, I unearthed a couple of old favourites that I plan to make again right away (pears Frangelico anyone?), but in most cases I just looked at the card in dismay and wondered how on earth I ever ate these dishes so often when they seem so unappetising to me today.

It’s not just that the recipes are dated, or loaded with sugar and fat, I know that the way these foods taste to me has changed so much that I would no longer consider any of these recipes a “treat”.

Ever the inquisitive one, this sent me scurrying to the internet to learn more about what happens to your sense of taste as you age. Buried under a plethora of images of shocked babies tasting lemons for the first time, I discovered that while we are all born with about 9,000 taste buds, between the ages of 40 and 50 they begin to decrease in number and in size making it increasingly difficult to distinguish between sweet, salty, sour and bitter foods.

Initially, this might make it easier to enjoy a vindaloo curry, but it also means that you might be less likely to notice just how salty your favourite chips are, or realise that your mouth is lined with a weird coating of fat after consuming a bucket’s worth of cinema-style popcorn.

To further complicate matters, a diminished sense of taste can lead to a diminished appetite and also cause you to lose interest in fruits and vegetables, which provide essential nutrients to an ageing body.

So what’s the solution?

Some might argue that the best thing to do is literally “detox” your tongue using an instrument called — (ready for it?) — a “tongue scraper”, followed by a regime of juice drinks. As I am not a physician, please be sure to check with your chosen health practitioner before embarking on this or any other holistic health remedy.

What I can tell you is that if you switch from a high-fat, high-sugar diet rich in preservative-laden processed foods, to a diet high in fruit, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein, three things will probably happen.

First, before the end of the first week you will be calling me up to tell me how much you miss your fat and sugar and how terrible everything tastes.

Then, if you don’t give up, you will wake up one morning at some point between the second and third week and suddenly find yourself thinking just how good some of your “new” food tastes, because as you consume healthier food, your palette itself becomes “cleansed” in such a way that you are actually able to taste your fruits and veggies more distinctly.

If you persist with this experiment, some weeks later you will also most likely inadvertently lose your resolve, get forgetful (or just have a rebellious moment) and reach for a doughnut or a bag of chips.

It will smell delicious and you will dive in headfirst like you have just run into a long-lost friend, only to discover that the taste of the hydrogenated fat or salt is more unappetising than you ever imagined possible. In fact, some of you may find the taste so unpalatable that you might never eat junk food again.

Will this palette cleansing revolutionise how you eat?

Perhaps. It depends whether you decide to make your food experiment a permanent lifestyle change. What I can promise you is that your body will thank you and a fresh-picked Bermuda strawberry will taste even better if you do.

Robin Trimingham is an author and thought leader in the field of retirement who specialises in helping corporate groups and individuals understand and prepare for a new life beyond work. Contact her at olderhoodgroup.com, 538-8937 or robin@olderhood.com