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Home  > Diets  > Tastebuds  


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Last updated February 18, 2017 (originally published May 19,
By Susan M. Callahan, Health Editor and Featured Columnist

Quick test.  When was the last time you ate a plate of French
fries without ketchup?

Chances are, if you are an American, the answer is "Never" or
"so seldom I can't remember".

In Europe, especially in Belgium, you will find that most people
eat their French fries, called "frites", with mayonnaise.

Just why is that?  
Why do we Americans need ketchup and the
Europeans need mayonnaise when we eat french fries?

Some time ago I started noticing that I, and almost everyone I
know who at one time has struggles to lose pounds, often ate
foods in certain fixed combinations.  I began to ask questions
of my friends and found some intriguing possible answers.

I have friends who were raised in the South. One of them, I'll
call him Vance, grew up in Georgia. At a back yard barbecue I
threw, I served watermelon for dessert. That's when I was
startled to see Vance sprinkling salt --- salt! --- on his
watermelon.  When I asked him how long he had been doing
that, he told me that many people in the South always sprinkle
salt on their sweet fruit --- salt on
watermelon, salt on

It struck me then that maybe those of us who are sprinkling
salt on sweet fruit are trying to balance the sweet taste with
salt.  Are our tastebuds sabotaging our efforts to lose weight?

I searched for other examples. They were easy to find.  
Almost everyone in America eats French Fries with ketchup.
Fries, salty and fatty, ketchup, sweet.  

Other examples.  Barbecued ribs are oily and earthy
eaten alone. But many of us wouldn't think of eating them
without first bathing them in thick syrupy barbecue sauce.  
Here, oily,
earthy is balanced by sweet. Only then do we feel
- ahhh--- that oh, so satisfied feeling that tells us "This is

Besides my hunch, some research appears to support my
theory. Studies have found that when we eat the same,
monotonous diets, we tend to eat less. Scientists at the Weight
Management Center, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral
Sciences, Medical University of South Carolina,
have found that
patients who eat monotonous diets eat much less than those
who eat a variety of foods.
This phenomenon is called
"habituation." A 2009 study led by Dr. Leonard H. Epstein,  of
the University at Buffalo confirms that eating the same foodfs,
day after day, will cause us to eat less because the food no
longer stimulates our appetite as much.

Our appetite sensors, for salt, sweet, bitter, oil and a taste
called "umami (sort of the earthy goodness found in
slow-cooked foods like braised lamb and beef, ripe tomatoes,
mushrooms and sardines) are turned off by sameness.

Perhaps, then, the reason variety turns our appetite triggers
"on" is that each separate taste chases the other triggers
--salt triggers the taste for sweet, which triggers the need for
more salt, and on we go.

Here is my theory:

1. We seek sweet to balance salt. (Ketchup on Fries)

2. Salt to balance Oily, Earthy. (Think salt on ribs)

3. Bitter to balance oil ( Think salad dressing of oil and

If this theory is even remotely correct, then it may explain why
being even a little out of balance can set you up for a
disastrous cycle of cravings.

And, surprise, almost all of us are grossly out of balance with
daily salt intake.

So, we, loaded with salt, seek out fats to balance the taste.
That sets up a condition leading to
internal inflammation,
which can lead to heart disease, stroke and cancer

Salt also sets us up to seek sweets to balance the taste. And
the added sugar not only piles on pounds but
sugar leads to
increased incidence of diseases such as  diabetes, stroke and
heart disease.

How do we break the appetite cycle?

First, watch our salt levels. That will help to break at least two
links --- the link to sugar and to fat.

Second, watch the intake of extra sweets. That will help to
avoid triggering our appetites in general.

Third, "turn off" your appetite by eating the same foods at
least for certain meals. Make your breakfast a standard one.
Try to eat the same lunch.


To decrease your appetite for salt, you must make sure that
your diet is not deficient in essential minerals, especially zinc.  
Studies have found that, as we get older, we lose our ability to
taste salt, and as a result we eat more and more salt.  For
example, a study from the Northern Ireland Centre for Food
and Health of the  University of Ulster in  Coleraine, Northern
Ireland discovered that the higher the level of zinc in your
blood stream, the greater is your sensitivity to salt and to
bitter tastes. Zinc does not, however, affect your sensitivity to
sweet foods.

If you prefer to consume your zinc naturally rather than from
supplements, try adding oysters to your diet. ]

You're just warming up. Here are some links on more tips to
help you trim up, lose weight and get healthy:

SuperTasters -Are You One of Them? / Foods That Shrink
Your Waist
 / Diet and Exercise -How Your Bowel Movements
Affect Your Diet
Success  / Sugar -The Disease Connection /
How Much Is Too Much Salt?  / Best Diet to Lower Blood
Pressure /
Healing Foods / Loss of Appetite-Causes and

More Related Links
Taste Buds--We Lose Them As We Age
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Why Your Waist Size Matters
Why We Americans Read In Bathrooms--The Hidden Health

Healthy Body, Healthy Mind, Healthy Life

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