“Supertasters” Tend to Use More Salt

Supertasters, or those having a sense of taste greater in intensity than other people, generally report higher salt content in foods. However, such a difference in the taste response of supertasters and non-tasters to food containing high sodium is unclear. This study was conducted to assess how different salt sensations could influence the intake of high-sodium foods. The taste effects of salt were assessed in 87 healthy adults. It was found that supertasters reported higher saltiness in a few foods when compared to regular-sodium products. They also preferred higher sodium concentration in cheeses and broths.

Nearly 23 percent of the deaths from cardiovascular diseases are due to hypertension. Dietary modification by limiting sodium intake is the primary step in risk reduction. However, sodium consumption exceeds the recommended levels in most people. The 2006 Nutritional and Health Examination Survey states that young men consume nearly double the recommended amount of sodium while women correspondingly consume around 135 percent in excess. Most of the dietary sodium intake comes from the consumption of processed foods and drinks. Taste is an important criterion for food selection. The best-studied marker of taste variation is the perceived bitterness of propylthiouracil (PROP).  Individuals with an extraordinary sensation to this are called supertasters. This study examines whether variation in taste influences salt sensation and affects the preference for high-sodium foods.

* This study involved 45 healthy males and 42 healthy females who were between 20 and 40 years of age.
* The taste sessions were carried out three times with a gap of one week between each session. The participants were provided with sample foods such as chips, pretzels and broth for tasting. They were instructed to rinse their mouths before and after tasting.
* The participants were then asked to rate their degree of liking or disliking the food samples based on a general Labeled Magnitude Scale (g LMS).
* The sensation of propylthiouracil (PROP) and the number of taste buds were then assessed in each participant. The average consumption of sodium according to their diets was also calculated.

* Based on the ability to taste PROP, there were 21 non-tasters, 37 medium tasters and 29 supertasters.
* The supertasters reported greater saltiness when they tasted chips, pretzels and broth. They reported greater sensation to increasing amounts of salt in broth, and were prone to overconsumption of salt in spite of an increased perception of saltiness.
* Supertasters were found to have a higher perception of bitterness and hence, used more salt to mask the bitter taste. Their liking for cheese increased as the salt content was enhanced, as it masked the bitter taste.
* Variations in hedonic responses to high sodium foods lead to different levels of salt consumption in non-tasters and super tasters.
* Salt preference is also linked to the genetic makeup of individuals as it affects the number of taste papillae on the tongue. Compared to men, women had a lower perception of bitterness and so were moderate in salt consumption as compared with men.
* The mean sodium intake was found to be 3,187 mg/day in the participants. This was derived from the questionnaires.

Shortcomings/Next steps
Food frequency assessments were done by recalling of the regular food intake by participants and may not have been accurate. Because of this, sodium intake may have been underestimated by up to 30 to 50 percent.Only the propylthiouracil and taste bud density was estimated while there are many other sensory phenotypes that can be used to predict salt intake. The findings of this study cannot be generalized as the participants were relatively homogenous. Thus, results may vary in other populations.

Sodium is vital in the diet, but its excess intake leads to increased blood pressure and other chronic ailments. Sodium is incorporated in high concentrations in processed foods and their consumption should be restricted. Though supertasters are expected to consume lesser amounts of salt in their diet as they have a higher perception of salt, the results obtained in this study are contrary to this belief. This is because they have a high perception of bitterness too, and so, they tend to add more salt to the food in order mask the bitter taste, resulting in an increased intake of sodium. Therefore, they are at a higher risk of consuming increased amounts of sodium, higher than the recommended limit, along with foods such as cheese and vegetables which are otherwise healthy for these individuals.

For More Information:
Explaining Variability in Sodium Intake through Oral Sensory Phenotype, Salt Sensation and Liking
Publication Journal: Physiology & Behavior, 2010
By John E. Hayes; Bridget S. Sullivan; Department of Food Science, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania and Department of Allied Health Sciences, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

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