TypewriterFrom The Urbach Letter – September 2003

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Tongue MapAre You a Supertaster?
You might be. About ten to fifteen percent of the population were born with an unusually large number of taste buds. These "supertasters" are unusually sensitive to food flavors, especially bitter ones. Most of us are "medium tasters," with an average number of taste buds on our tongues. On the other end of the spectrum, there's a small percentage of the population with fewer taste buds than normal. They're called "non-tasters." Not surprisingly, many non-tasters have been found to patronize McDonalds and Burger King (just kidding…)

Here's the bad news for supertasters: your health may be at risk because of the way food tastes to you. Because of your heightened sensitivity to foods that are only somewhat bitter (to regular folks), you may avoid eating vegetables that are really good for you. Supertasters tend to dislike broccoli, cauliflower, and dark green vegetables.

If you suspect you're a supertaster – because, perhaps, you dislike coffee and chocolate – there's a simple test you can take. Just chew on a piece of paper that's been soaked in a chemical called 6-n-propylthiouracil, or "prop" for short. Medium tasters don't usually notice any peculiar flavor, but prop tastes so incredibly bitter to supertasters, most immediately spit it out.

Researchers monitored the health history of supertasters versus the general population and found, among older men especially, a greater number of polyps in their colons. There was a direct correlation between the degree of prop paper bitterness experienced, and the number of polyps counted. Although the direct cancer link was not studied, polyps are strongly correlated with colorectal cancer (the second largest cause of cancer deaths in the United States – only lung cancer kills more).

If you are a supertaster, there's nothing you can do (yet) to change the way food tastes to you. What you can do is step up your general anti-cancer lifestyle factors (quit smoking, exercise, eat more fresh fruits and whole grains, avoid fried foods, etc.). However, please note this is all new research, with a relatively small subject group. More study is needed to define the degree of risk more precisely. However, I thought this was interesting enough to bring it to your attention now.

(c) Copyright 2002-2010 Victor Urbach
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