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    Gustology (TASTE) with Gary Beauchamp

    en-usSeptember 20, 2023

    Podcast Summary

    • Exploring the World of Taste with Dr. Gary BeauchampLearn about umami, excitotoxins, gag reflexes, and artificial sweeteners from renowned taste expert Dr. Gary Beauchamp in an upcoming episode of Ologies podcast.

      Our tongues are complex organs that play a crucial role in our sense of taste. During an eventful month, the host of the Ologies podcast, Alie Ward, had a chance to visit the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia and interview Dr. Gary Beauchamp, a renowned taste expert. Dr. Beauchamp shared fascinating insights about taste, from umami and excitotoxins to gag reflexes and artificial sweeteners. Despite a few unexpected setbacks, including a bout of pneumonia, Alie managed to record several insightful interviews, which will be shared in an upcoming episode. Through her experiences, Alie emphasized the importance of taking care of oneself and the value of exploring new knowledge. So, stay tuned for the upcoming episode, where we'll dive deeper into the fascinating world of taste with Dr. Gary Beauchamp.

    • How an animal's diet shapes its sensory capabilitiesCats, as obligate carnivores, have lost the ability to taste sweet due to their dietary needs, illustrating how an animal's sensory capabilities are shaped by its evolutionary needs and diet. Various animals have unique sensory abilities, providing valuable insights into their behaviors and adaptations.

      Animals, including humans, experience the world through various sensory capabilities, with each species adapting to its specific needs. For instance, cats, as obligate carnivores, have lost the ability to taste sweet due to their dietary requirements. This discovery was made possible by advancements in molecular biology, which identified the sugar receptor in the human tongue and its absence in cats and other obligate carnivores. This illustrates how an animal's sensory capabilities are shaped by its evolutionary needs and diet. Additionally, there is vast variation in sensory abilities among different species, with some having no taste or smell capabilities at all. Ultimately, understanding the unique sensory worlds of various animals provides valuable insights into their behaviors and adaptations.

    • Cats and dogs have unique dietary needsCats lack ability to digest carbs, dogs can taste sweet, and aging may affect taste perception

      Cats and dogs have distinct dietary needs and preferences due to their evolutionary backgrounds and taste receptors. Cats, being obligate carnivores, lack the ability to effectively digest and absorb carbohydrates, which can lead to digestive issues when consumed in high amounts. On the other hand, dogs, who are omnivores, still retain the ability to taste sweet and have a more varied diet. Additionally, as people age, there is some evidence suggesting a loss of taste buds, but the impact on taste perception is not well-established. My father-in-law's experience, though sad, serves as a reminder of the importance of being cautious about what we consume, as our ancestors faced real dangers in the wild from potentially poisonous foods.

    • Impact of food preferences on health of older adultsOlder adults have lower taste intensity perception and may need more salt and time to enjoy food, emphasizing the importance of considering individual preferences for optimal health and well-being.

      Individual preferences and needs, particularly when it comes to food and taste, can significantly impact health and well-being, especially for older adults. The example shared involved a man who noticed his elderly father wasn't eating well in a nursing home due to the lack of salt in his food. The man, who has expertise in salt, advocated for its addition to his father's meals, emphasizing that older adults' perception of taste intensity is lower than that of younger adults and that they may need more time to fully appreciate the taste. Additionally, the discussion touched on the importance of considering individual preferences when it comes to food, as seen in the anecdote about feeding lions and the varying responses to sweets among different animals. Overall, it's crucial to consider individual needs and preferences when it comes to food and health.

    • Taste preferences can change based on experiences and exposurePeople gradually acclimate to new tastes and preferences based on their experiences and environment

      Our taste preferences can change based on what we're accustomed to. The example given was the onion dip test, where some people prefer the strong taste of onion dip over cake. This phenomenon was further explored in a study during the 1960s and 70s regarding salt consumption. The study found that people gradually acclimate to lower levels of salt in their food, even though they initially disliked it. This discovery was not a new one, as it had already been observed by explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson, who studied Inuit populations and their high-salt diets. Overall, our taste preferences are not set in stone, and they can evolve based on our experiences and exposure to different flavors.

    • The Inuit diet's impact on explorers' healthThe Inuit diet rich in meat and fish promotes good health, but eating only lean meat can cause health issues. Reducing sodium intake is a cost-effective way to prevent noncommunicable diseases, but the potential effects of reducing other dietary components like sugar remain unclear.

      The Inuit diet, which is high in meat and fish, can lead to good health, even for non-native explorers. Vilhjalmur Stefansson, an explorer who followed this diet, found that when he and his team ate only fatty meat, they had no nutrient deficiencies and good health. However, when they ate lean meat, they experienced health issues. Stefansson's findings were later replicated in larger studies and form the basis for recommendations from the FDA and CDC for reducing sodium intake to prevent noncommunicable diseases. Despite this, many populations consume around 9 to 12 times the recommended amount of salt, making reducing sodium in diets the most cost-effective way to address these diseases. Stefansson's experiences also raise questions about the potential health effects of reducing other dietary components, such as sugar.

    • Understanding the Effects of Low Sugar Diets and Artificial SweetenersOngoing research investigates the impact of low sugar diets, with or without sweeteners, on appetite and health. Controversial findings suggest sweeteners may disrupt hormones and increase hunger, but more research is needed to fully understand potential risks.

      There is ongoing research into the effects of low sugar diets, with and without non-nutritive sweeteners, on appetite and overall health. The study, which involves collaboration with the USDA, aims to determine if it's the sweetness itself that confuses the body and leads to increased appetite or consumption. The research is controversial, with some studies suggesting that sweeteners can disrupt hormones like insulin and ghrelin, leading to increased hunger and food intake. Other studies suggest that the effects, if any, are minimal. There are also concerns about the potential health risks of artificial sweeteners, with some research linking their use to health issues like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and neurodegenerative diseases. However, more research is needed to fully understand the effects and risks of low sugar diets and artificial sweeteners. The study mentioned in the discussion is currently ongoing and will run for three months, but it remains to be seen how long it takes for the body to adjust to a no sugar diet and if the effects are similar to those seen with salt reduction. Ultimately, more research is needed to fully understand the complex relationship between diet, sweeteners, and health.

    • Understanding the Complex Relationship Between Sugar and InsulinThe body can discriminate between different types of sweeteners and our relationship with sugar can lead to a cycle of consumption and insulin response due to reactive hyperinsulinemia.

      Our relationship with sugar and sweeteners can be complex and psychological, with some individuals experiencing intense cravings and blood sugar crashes after a period of abstinence. This phenomenon, known as postprandial reactive hyperinsulinemia, can lead to a cycle of sugar consumption and insulin response. From a scientific perspective, our bodies can discriminate between different types of sweeteners, even if we may not be consciously aware of it. Taste buds, which are often thought of as having distinct sections for different tastes, actually detect various tastes and molecules through a network of receptors. Research is ongoing to understand how to break the cycle of sugar addiction and explore alternative sweeteners that may have less impact on insulin response.

    • Our understanding of taste perception has evolvedOur taste system is complex and multifaceted, with each taste cell responding to multiple tastes and the distribution of taste buds varying across the tongue. Salt and amino acids are crucial for our survival and perception of taste.

      Our understanding of taste perception, particularly regarding the distribution of different tastes on the tongue and the role of each taste cell, has evolved over time. While there are some truths to the old adage that the back of the tongue is for bitter tastes and the front for sweet ones, this is not a complete picture. Each taste cell responds to multiple tastes, and the distribution of taste buds and their cell types varies across the tongue. The taste system is crucial for our survival as it helps us determine what is safe to consume and what is not. Salt, for instance, was essential for our ancestors to find and is still important for us today. Amino acids, particularly glutamate, can be attractive and can compensate for lower sodium intake. Our perception of taste is complex and multifaceted, and our ongoing research continues to shed new light on this fascinating sensory system.

    • Enhancing Umami with Nucleotides and GlutamateUmami taste can be intensified by combining glutamate with nucleotides, naturally found in various foods. MSG, a source of free glutamate, is safe when consumed in moderation despite historical misconceptions.

      Umami, the savory taste, can be enhanced by combining glutamate with nucleotides like inosinate or guanylate, which are found in various foods such as beef, fish, packaged foods, fermented vegetables, and human milk. MSG, a source of free glutamate, has been unfairly stigmatized due to historical misconceptions and xenophobia. Glutamate is naturally present in many foods and is essential for brain function. While some studies suggest a link between free glutamates and certain medical conditions, more research is needed. Capsaicin, the compound responsible for the heat in chili peppers, is not a taste but an irritant that activates pain receptors. MSG and capsaicin are not the same, and MSG is generally considered safe when consumed in moderation. The misconceptions surrounding MSG and capsaicin highlight the importance of accurate information and understanding the science behind the substances we consume.

    • Exploring the Connection Between Taste and Smell, and the Impact of Losing ThemPeople consume painful or spicy foods for artistic or dramatic reasons. Smell plays a crucial role in our perception of taste, and losing it can significantly impact food enjoyment. Debunking myths about the role of smell in taste, the study of smell loss due to COVID-19, and its impact on Amazon candle reviews were discussed.

      Our senses, particularly taste and smell, are deeply interconnected, and their loss can significantly impact our experience of food. The intriguing question of why people willingly consume painful or spicy foods was explored, with the suggestion that there might be an artistic or dramatic element to it. The discussion also touched upon the importance of smell in our perception of taste and how the loss of smell due to COVID-19 has been studied. Myths surrounding the significance of smell in taste were debunked, and the impact of losing one's sense of smell as a baby versus as an adult was contrasted. The conversation ended with a mention of an interesting study on the effect of COVID-19-related smell loss on Amazon candle reviews.

    • COVID-19 causes loss of smell and taste through swelling of nearby cells60% of COVID patients lose taste and smell, most recover, but some treatments cause unpleasant aftertastes due to drug excretion in the mouth

      The loss of smell and taste during COVID-19 infections is not due to damage to the lungs or receptor cells themselves, but rather to swelling of nearby cells that block odors and flavors from reaching the receptors. This is not overly surprising, as it's similar to what happens when people have colds. The recent study in the Journal of Laryngoscope found that about 60% of COVID patients experienced a loss of taste and smell, with the severity of the infection correlating to the amount of loss. Most people (70%) eventually recovered their senses, but about 3% did not. A notable exception is the aftertaste of some COVID treatments, such as Paxlovid, which can cause a profound and unpleasant aftertaste due to the drug being excreted in the mouth via saliva. The main mechanism for aftertastes is believed to be the compound returning to the mouth or being excreted into it from the bloodstream.

    • Taste and Circulatory System ConnectionThe taste we perceive is influenced by the circulatory system, and some aftertastes may originate from the gut. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can impact taste, and the phenomenon of pica is still not fully understood.

      Our sense of taste is closely connected to our circulatory system. When we taste something, the compounds reach our taste buds via the bloodstream. This was demonstrated in an experiment where saccharin was injected into a person's veins and they tasted sweetness shortly after. Some aftertastes may also originate from the gut and gas production. Chemotherapy can affect our taste buds, leading to metallic tastes, which might be due to the drugs interacting with saliva. Metallic taste is a controversial topic, with some claiming it's all in the nose (smell), while others insist it's a distinct taste. Radiation therapy, particularly in the head and neck area, can destroy taste and smell receptor cells, leading to a significant loss of taste. Pica, or the craving to eat non-food items like dirt, is a complex phenomenon that may involve both brain and taste bud functions. Humans don't have an immediate response to detect and stop consuming essential minerals like sodium, unlike many animals. The human understanding of pica and its underlying causes is still evolving.

    • Early exposure to certain flavors influences taste preferences later in lifeExposure to flavors in utero and early life can shape taste preferences, with carrot juice and hydrolyzed formula being examples.

      Early exposure to certain flavors, even in utero, can significantly impact a person's taste preferences later in life. This was discovered through an experiment where some babies were exposed to carrot juice during both prenatal and postnatal life, others only during prenatal life, and others not at all. The babies who were exposed to carrot juice both in and out of the womb responded positively to the flavor, while those who weren't showed no preference. Similarly, hydrolyzed formula for infants who can't tolerate regular formula is widely used, and these infants may develop a preference for the different taste of hydrolyzed formula if exposed to it early in life. Additionally, people with adrenal insufficiency may crave salty foods due to their condition, leading to hyponatremia and a low level of electrolytes in their blood. It's important to note that taste sensitivity can also be influenced by genetics and the number of taste buds on the tongue. For those looking to acquire a taste for something they don't currently enjoy, gradually increasing their exposure to the food or flavor over time is a helpful tip.

    • Impact of food exposure on infants' taste preferencesInfants' taste preferences can be influenced by the types of food they're exposed to during a critical period between 3 to 6 months, shaping their food choices into adulthood through imprinting learning.

      The taste preferences of infants can be influenced by the types of food they are exposed to during a critical period between 3 to 6 months of age. This is due to the fact that the sensory system is developing and can detect the volatile breakdown products of proteins, which can have a strong impact on a baby's taste preferences. Even if the food itself may be unpleasant, such as bitter or off-smelling formula, infants who are exposed to it during this critical period may continue to prefer those flavors into adulthood. This phenomenon, known as imprinting learning, suggests that babies are programmed to respond positively to the foods their mothers consume, making it the best predictor of what they will be eating when they grow older. Despite the importance of this research, taste and smell are often overlooked compared to other senses like vision and hearing. However, understanding the role of taste and smell in human development can provide valuable insights into the complex relationship between food, health, and human behavior.

    • Unexpected connections and communityUnexpected encounters can lead to cherished friendships and valuable connections. Skype a Scientist bridges learning gaps by connecting experts with classrooms for free.

      Key takeaway from this episode of "The Ologies" podcast is the importance of community and connections. The host expresses gratitude to the team behind the scenes, many of whom have become close friends. During this episode, an unexpected encounter with a friend of a friend, Sarah McNulty, a squid expert and founder of Skype a Scientist, led to a fun-filled week in Philadelphia. Even in everyday life, unexpected connections can be made and cherished. The podcast also highlights the valuable work of Skype a Scientist, which pairs experts with classrooms and other groups for free, making learning accessible and engaging. The episode ends with a reminder of the diverse range of topics covered in "The Ologies," from toothology to cryptozoology and nanotechnology.

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    Other episodes you may enjoy: Entomology (INSECTS), Spheksology (WASPS), Melittology (BEES), Native Melittology (INDIGENOUS BEES), Myrmecology (ANTS), Etymology (WORD ORIGINS), Mythology (STORYTELLING)

    Sponsors of Ologies

    Transcripts and bleeped episodes

    Become a patron of Ologies for as little as a buck a month

    OlogiesMerch.com has hats, shirts, hoodies, totes!

    Follow @Ologies on Instagram and X

    Follow @AlieWard on Instagram and X

    Editing by Mercedes Maitland of Maitland Audio Productions and Jacob Chaffee

    Managing Director: Susan Hale

    Scheduling Producer: Noel Dilworth

    Transcripts by Aveline Malek 

    Website by Kelly R. Dwyer

    Theme song by Nick Thorburn

    Ologies with Alie Ward
    en-usMay 22, 2024

    Minisode: Some Small/Smol Announcements

    Minisode: Some Small/Smol Announcements

    A short little episode to tell you about a change we're making to Ologies that I am genuinely very pumped about, as well as some weird secrets I did not intend to tell. But my point is that you can now have a kid-safe show and feed that is safe for kids and classrooms and a road trip with your shy parents. 

    Subscribe to Smologies on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Pocket Casts, Castbox, Podcast Addict, or wherever you get podcasts.

    Sponsors of Ologies

    Transcripts and bleeped episodes

    Become a patron of Ologies for as little as a buck a month

    OlogiesMerch.com has hats, shirts, hoodies, totes!

    Follow @Ologies on Instagram and X

    Follow @AlieWard on Instagram and X

    Editing by Mercedes Maitland of Maitland Audio Productions, Jacob Chaffee, and Jarrett Sleeper of MindJam Media

    Managing Director: Susan Hale

    Scheduling producer: Noel Dilworth

    Transcripts by Aveline Malek 

    Website by Kelly R. Dwyer

    Theme song by Nick Thorburn

    Ologies with Alie Ward
    en-usMay 16, 2024

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