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The Sixth SenseMany of us have a sweet tooth but now get ready for this… there is another dietary vice to fear: the fat tooth!

You're kidding, right?

No! New research shows some people can detect a range of fatty acids in foods. Traditionally there have been just four types of taste receptors: sweet, salty, sour and bitter. There is a fifth type called Umami, Japanese for "yummy", which recognizes savory, protein-rich foods.

Now, in this latest study scientists set out to determine if oral sensitivity to fat played any role on fat intake, fat perception and body mass index. Previous research had already shown people's preference and intake of certain foods is based on how their taste receptors work.

Makers of processed foods take advantage of this by exploiting a primal, evolutionary-based desire for energy–dense molecules historically rare in the human diet.

Two examples include high fructose corn syrup and trans-fats – both artificially produced and fast food industry staples.

What researchers learned in the study is that the threshold for detecting fats varied from person to person. More interestingly, there was a relationship with someone's sensitivity to fatty acids and their BMI.

Being hypersensitive to fat content correlated with healthy weights and a better diet, while those less able to detect fat were generally heavier and consumed more fat.

This brings up quite a few questions: Are heavier people just used to the taste of fat, or are those skinny folks especially sensitive? Another interesting question is while we know that sense of taste deteriorates with age – is the same true of fat perception?

Though this study shows people can detect fat, researchers have not yet found a receptor specific for fat, something they're working on next.

You can bet the weight loss industry is anxiously waiting to hear the results.


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For more information…

For a scientific article that identified two proteins that appear to act as receptors involved in tasting fat was published in the Journal of Neuroscience and can be read here.

A commentary that highlights the link between the sensitivity of taste to fat with BMI, go here.

A summary of the results of the research that suggests that the ability to taste fat is our sixth taste, added to sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami.

To learn more about how taste actually works go here and for kids, go here.

For information about taste disorders go here.


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