Public Release: 

Food tastes stronger when you're hungry

BioMed Central

People on diets should be forgiven for moaning that chocolate tastes better when you're hungry. Just missing breakfast makes you more sensitive to sweet and salty tastes, according to research to be published next week in BMC Neuroscience.

Hunger could increase your ability to taste, by increasing the sensitivity of the taste receptors on your tongue, or by changing the way you perceive the same taste stimuli, the author suggests.

Professor Zverev from the University of Malawi persuaded 16 male undergraduates to forgo breakfast, having eaten a set dinner at 6.30 the previous evening. He then asked the students to sip sugar, salt or quinine solutions of different concentrations, and let him know when they thought they were tasting sweet, salty or bitter drinks. One hour after lunch, the volunteers repeated the taste tests.

When they were hungry, the students were more sensitive to the presence of sugar and salt in the drinks. Having an empty stomach did not change the volunteers' ability to recognise bitterness.

Professor Zverev suspects that this difference is due to the different roles that the tastes play: "While sweet and salty tastes are indicators of edible substances and trigger consumption, a bitter taste indicates a substance which is not suitable for consumption and should be rejected."

The importance of recognising bitter solutions, in case they are toxic, could also explain why relatively dilute solutions of quinine were recognised as being bitter. Salt or sugar solutions had to be more concentrated before the students could taste them as being salty or sweet.

The students were asked not to swallow the drinks, in case this eased their hunger. Instead they spat them out after tasting, and rinsed their mouth with water in between each test.

None of the volunteers were smokers or drinkers; they all had good oral hygiene and were of normal weight. These factors have already been shown to alter the ability to taste.

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This release is based on the following article:

Effects of caloric deprivation and satiety on sensitivity of the gustatory system YP Zverev
BMC Neuroscience, 2004 5:5
To be published 23rd February 2004

When published this article will be available free of charge, according to BMC Neuroscience's Open access policy at: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2202/5/5

For more information about this research, please contact the author, Professor YP Zverev by email at: yzverev@yahoo.com or by phone on +265 8 861 600

Alternatively, or for more information about the journal or open access publishing, contact Gemma Bradley by email at press@biomedcentral.com or by phone on +44 (0)207 323 0323

BMC Neuroscience (http://www.biomedcentral.com/bmcneurosci) is published by BioMed Central (http://www.biomedcentral.com), an independent online publishing house committed to providing Open Access to peer-reviewed biological and medical research. This commitment is based on the view that immediate free access to research and the ability to freely archive and reuse published information is essential to the rapid and efficient communication of science. BioMed Central currently publishes over 100 journals across biology and medicine. In addition to open-access original research, BioMed Central also publishes reviews, commentaries and other non-original-research content. Depending on the policies of the individual journal, this content may be open access or provided only to subscribers.

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