Diet quality is a major factor in the occurrence of many diet-related health outcomes, and work is starting to indicate that taste perception (sweet, salt, sour, bitter, and umami) contributes to food selection. The perception of tastes varies considerably among individuals, which is at least in part due to genetic polymorphisms in taste-related genes. Existing work to determine the relationships between taste perception and diet quality is conducted using each separate taste or in an aggregate value referred to as total taste score. Gervis and colleagues conducted a study to determine if an approach that used the collective taste perception profile that includes all tastes would be a better indicator. Their results are reported in a paper published in the September 2021 issue of The Journal of Nutrition.
A cohort of individuals (n=367) with metabolic syndrome and living in a community dwelling was studied to determine their taste perception scores. Those observations were used in a cluster analysis to identify individuals with similar patterns of taste perception (taste perception profile). Clusters were identified and the validity and stability of the clusters were assessed.
Taste perception profiles of Low All, High Bitter, High Umami, Low Bitter & Umami, High All But Bitter, and High All But Umami were identified, and these clusters provided the best fit of the data. These taste perception profiles explained more of the variability in bitter and umami, and were comparable for sweet, salt, and sour than did the total taste scores. Total taste scores were also not able to capture differential perceptions of each taste in individuals whereas the taste perception profiles were able to do so. These observations led the authors to conclude that taste perception profiles may be a valuable approach to capture individual variability in the perception of tastes and thus, may be a better approach to determine the impact of taste on diet quality.
In a commentary, Tepper introduces the principles of chemosensory research and newer work indicating that detection of liberated free fatty acids and oligopolymers of glucose may occur in the mouth, thereby expanding our taste perception profiles. Tepper also suggests taste perception profiles that capture the combined taste contributors found within foods may improve studies of diet selection and health outcomes.
Gervis JE, Chui KKH, Ma J, Coltell O, Fernandez-Carrion R, Sorli JV, Barragan R, Fito M, Gonzalez JI, Corella D, Lichtenstein AH. Data-driven clustering approach to derive taste perception profiles from sweet, salt, sour, bitter, and umami perception scores: An illustration among older adults with metabolic syndrome. Journal of Nutrition, Volume 151, Issue 9, September 2021, Pages 2843–2851, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/nxab160.
Tepper BJ. Toward a better understanding of diet-taste relations. Journal of Nutrition, Volume 151, Issue 9, September 2021, Pages 2503–2504, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/nxab214.
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