Has an uncontrollable urge to eat ever driven you to the kitchen without a blooming clue what you are hungry for? You take a few bites of left overs, maybe crunched on some carrot sticks, sipped some juice and still was not satisfied. Do you ever binge on pizza because you are in a diet rut, bored with the same old foods day in and day out? Seems you might be needing a flavor fix, right?
Sometimes, a desire for something savory outweighs even our basic hunger signals, yet we will skip better quality foods in order to snarf down the same old familiar foods that bring us comfort. A lot of people get derailed when attempting to adopt healthy eating habits. After a few weeks of eating low fat foods, because that is what we believe we are supposed to do, we get bored and want something that tastes scrumptious, looks appetizing and smells like heaven. It is then that we face the danger of over eating, when we far exceed our daily caloric needs. Granted, there also many who end up over eating for emotional reasons, stressed, bored or lonely, a lot of people over eat not because they are truly hungry, but because they have not had a satisfying meal in a while.
Many folks crave a certain taste and will not stop eating until that need for a specific flavor has been satisfied. Perceived “sensory deprivation” diets, rather healthy diets cause us to get bored, and then we binge on the same old sugary, salty and fatty crap that got us over weight to begin with. It is a great irony that even a wide variety of healthy foods will cause us to quickly become bored with the tastes while one dimensional fast food and convenience foods will get us excited to eat until we are stuffed.
Taste is the number one reason why we make the food choices we do, but most have no true idea what taste actually is. Out sense of taste is divided into four different primary taste qualities; salty, sweet, sour and bitter. A fifth taste, Umami, is a Japanese word that describes a protein like taste or savoriness, but also denotes the total flavor gestalt of a dish. Scientists once thought that these taste receptors were housed in specific spots on the tongue, but now understand they are dispersed over the entire surface of the tongue, the epiglottis, the larynx, and the upper one third of the esophagus, and work in tandem with nerve fibers that also react to stimuli.
The mouth watering experience of chowing down on baked bbq ribs with a side of baked beans, or a chocolate cake is more than just taste. Usually, what we mean by taste is really the flavor of a food, and we can not perceive our sense of flavor without our sense of smell. If you want to understand how the importance of smell to flavor, try holding your nose while taking a bite of an apple or an onion. You might taste a vague sweetness, but it will be hard to distinguish between the apple and the onion if you have completely blocked your sense of smell.
Aromatic chemicals released in the mouth drift up the back of the throat to stimulate receptors in your nose, which relays information to the olfactory nerve and then into your brain. Your nose can sense hundreds of variations of smell while you can only taste four or five taste sensations. Up to 90 percent of the ability to detect food flavors can be attributed to the sense of smell. These same olfactory receptors also send messages to the limbic system in the brain, which processes information associated with emotion. This may explain why odors conjure up our most emotionally charged memories, why learning is enhanced when paired with the presence of a novel aroma, or even why women have a love hate relationship with chocolate. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania gave chocoholics a chocolate bar, a calorie equivalent in white chocolate, or a capsule filled with cocoa powder, only the chocolate bar satisfied the cravings these people had. The researchers concluded that it was the aroma, not the sweetness, texture or calories, that soothed the cravings.
However, flavor is more than taste and smell. Other sensations, such as texture, temperature, and pungency rely on the common chemical sense, which relays information from the mouth via cranial nerve V to the brain. We also eat with our eyes, so it is not surprising that the very sight of a scrumptious meal also stimulates the brains appetite center and gets the digestive juices churning before we can even unfold a napkin. Is it any wonder that with all these senses being in play that we have such a difficult time with our appetites? Thankfully, against what seems to be overwhelming odds, we can still over come these very human traits.