While social, emotional and health factors play a role in the foods people choose to eat, the foods we enjoy are the ones we eat most. That is why, as a part of National Nutrition Month 2014, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics encourages everyone to “Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right.”
Each March, the Academy encourages Americans to return to the basics of healthful eating throughout the month. This year’s theme focuses on combining taste and nutrition to create healthy meals that follow recommendations of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
When taste is the most influential factor driving what consumers eat, it is important that we find the balance between choosing foods we like and those that provide the nutrients we need. These two choices are not mutually exclusive.
So why do some foods “taste” better than others? Everyone has a different perception of taste and what tastes good to one person may not taste good to another. Our sensation of taste can be categorized into five basic tastes:
Most of us are likely familiar with the first four tastes that are listed, but perhaps you have not heard of umami. Umami was first identified in Japan in 1908, and it is tasted through receptors for glutamate. It provides a “savory” taste and plays a role in making food taste delicious.
While we consider the taste of the food we eat the main way we identify flavor, our other senses also play a key role in how our food tastes. The adage that we “eat with our eyes” is very true. If the food we eat looks attractive, is garnished nicely and has good eye appeal, it enhances our thought that it also tastes good.
Our sense of hearing can also make an impact on how we perceive taste, such as the crunchiness of an apple or fresh vegetables. Temperature can also play a role in how something tastes; a serving of mashed potatoes definitely tastes better hot than cool.
However, our sense of smell is probably the most important factor after the sense of taste in determining the flavor of what we eat. If you’ve ever closed your eyes and plugged your nose and then taken a bite of something, you know that it is very difficult to determine what the flavor is by taste alone. If you want to try a simple experiment, take a few candies, such as Skittles that have a variety of colors and flavors. Put them in a small dish, then close your eyes and plug your nose. Then put one piece of candy in your mouth and see if you can determine what the flavor is. Then keep your eyes closed but unplug your nose and give it try. It is surprising how difficult it is to determine how something tastes without that sense of smell.
We all like to eat food that tastes good. We should all try to choose foods that are good for us as well. That is the message of this year’s National Nutrition Month. I hope you can “enjoy the taste of eating right” this month and the following months as well.