Mealtime Partners, Inc.

Specializing in Assistive Dining and Drinking Equipment

August 2015 Independent Eating and Drinking Newsletter

Independent Eating...   is a Wonderful Thing

August Topics:

  • Does Fat have a Taste?

  • Picky Eaters

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Does Fat have a Taste?

This article is going to discuss new research that has been conducted into taste. To begin the discussion some definitions might be helpful. The forth or fifth definition of taste in most dictionaries is: Taste: Perceive or experience the flavor of. This definition provides the information necessary for a discussion about different foods and how we understand their basic flavors. From a scientific standpoint, taste refers to the chemical sensations gained from food that are perceived by the tongue alone. Flavor: the blend of taste and smell sensations evoked by a substance in the mouth is a word that provides a broader spectrum of perceptions about what we taste. Flavor refers to the information about what is being tasted that is received from both the tongue (taste, as defined above) and the nose, the olfactory system. To experience the difference between taste and flavor, hold your nose and then take a bite of chocolate pudding. What you will find is that the chocolate flavor is not clearly perceivable until you let go of your nose and smell the pudding as well as tasting it.

For many years there were four flavors that were thought to describe the entire taste palate: sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. In 1909, umami was identified as a taste that was distinct from the four already familiar tastes. However, interest in the fifth taste was only spurred in the 1980’s, and in 2002, the receptors on the tongue that identified umami were found, confirming it as a fifth taste.

Now several research projects are being conducted looking at the possibility of a sixth taste: fat. Fat is a substance that occurs naturally in the bodies of animals and in some plants. It is an oily or greasy material and fat, in some animals, can be very solid and dense. One of the controversial issues in understanding whether fat is a taste is its dense texture. When fat is put in the mouth it must be moved around and broken down before the taste buds are able to be aware of anything. The question is, is it the texture of the fat that our mouth feels, or, are we actually tasting it.

In a study to evaluate whether fat could be tasted, researchers at Purdue University modified the texture and smell of fat to eliminate the possibility of the texture of fat influencing the perceptions of study participants. Approximately half of the study participants were able to identify the samples that they tasted that contained fat. (It is believed that some people are more able to detect the taste of fat in food, than others.)

It should be noted that even though fat in the foods that we eat generally improves the flavor, the taste of fatty acid is unpleasant and commonly elicits a gag reflex. Scientists hypothesize that the taste of fatty acid is objectionable because it increases as fat spoils and it is a natural way for us to avoid eating food that would make us sick.

Fatty acids are the building blocks of the fat in our bodies and in the food we eat. During digestion, the body breaks down fats into fatty acids, which can then be absorbed into the blood. Fatty acid molecules are usually joined together in groups of three, forming a molecule called a triglyceride. Triglycerides are also made in our bodies from the carbohydrates that we eat. The combination of the three fat molecules is responsible for the texture of fat that can be described as creamy. Triglycerides are used to store calories that the body does not need to use immediately. Hormones released by the body, trigger the release of the triglycerides to produce energy in between meals. Fatty acids have many important functions in the body, including energy storage. If glucose (a type of sugar) isn't available for energy, the body uses fatty acids to fuel the cells of the body instead.

The name proposed to describe the taste of fat is oleogustus. “Oleo” is the Latin root word for oily or fatty, and “gustus” refers to taste or tasting.

The allure of the taste of fat was based on the need to store energy and fat in the body for lean times when food was not readily available. The feast and famine phenomena allowed people to survive through times when food was plentiful and also times when it was scarce. They gained weight and lost it depending upon food availability.  Researchers are considering the ramifications of this finding upon our health and the problems associated with obesity.

As the awareness of a sixth taste evolves, scientists believe that many other tastes will be identified. Part of the problem of identifying tastes is our limited vocabulary which does not provide us appropriate words to describe these different tastes. For example, the derivation of umami comes from the Japanese word delicious; however, the word delicious does not describe the taste umami. People sometimes confuse sour and bitter. Can you describe the difference? Without words to describe tastes, the discussion cannot expand. Research continues and our understanding of taste will expand, but how will we put taste into words?


Hands Free Eating

The Mealtime Partner Dining System provides eating independence
reduces the risk of choking or aspiration
The Mealtime Partner Dining Device The Mealtime Partner Dining System is able to serve foods from puree texture to normal bite sized pieces of food. For those who are unable to feed themselves and, therefore, must be fed by another person, the Mealtime Partner Dining System provides an alternate to being fed. It is not only a way of becoming independent at mealtimes but also is a safer way to eat than being fed by another person, because the person eating can choose when they take each bite of food and can chew as long as they wish. This reduces the risk of choking or aspiration that occurs when people eat hurriedly.

More information about the Mealtime Partner Dining System is available at our website under
Dining. If you are not sure which system to choose when considering purchasing a dining system, call 1-800-996-8607, or email our staff for assistance at Assisted Dining Questions. We will be happy to assist you.


Picky Eaters

We all know children who are picky eaters. Some are extremely selective eaters, eating only a few different foods, while others simply avoid some specific foods. This selective eating behavior seems to be part of learning to eat “table food” and most children grow out of it. However, for some children, eating a variety of foods is permanently a problem and can persist throughout their lives.

The typical pattern of learning to eat a variety of different foods starts in infancy. Children need to be exposed to a range of flavors. Learning to like a specific flavor doesn’t always happen immediately; deciding that you like a flavor can happen gradually. In some cases, it takes 10 to 15 exposures to the same food for an infant to happily eat it. This is not only true regarding flavor but also texture. The same flavor of food that was once enjoyed, when pureed, can be rejected when it is chopped. The change in texture can make the experience unpleasant. Alternately, some children find dry, crunchy food pleasing while smooth, soft foods are viewed as unpleasant. For some children, texture can impact the child’s ability to enjoy eating more significantly than flavor.

Regardless of the specific preferences of each child, the vast majority learn to eat a diverse diet enjoying a wide range of flavors and textures. Sweet and/or salty foods are very popular with most children, but they should be taught that they are a treat to be eaten once in a while, not as a constant diet. However, there are some children who don’t reach this level of comfort with food and who struggle to eat even a few different foods. These children would be described as severely selective eaters.

Moderately and severely selective eaters usually display problems eating both at home and at school. Additionally, some of them are impacted socially as they are unable to go to friend’s homes, or to a restaurant, because of their extremely limited diet. There are many programs throughout the United States to help these children learn how to overcome their eating problems. Children who find eating often difficult display symptoms of anxiety when confronted with food. Food then becomes a battle between parents who are anxious because their child isn’t eating enough.

Selective eating patterns are now recognized as an eating disorder that is identified as Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). This disorder is included in the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Recent research found indications that cases of moderate to severe selective eating were associated with higher levels of anxiety and depression later in life. Even though the study did not clearly prove that picky eating directly leads to psychological symptoms, it does highlight the importance of identifying and treating eating problems in children to avoid potential problems in later life. The research findings are important as they draw attention to the potential of picky eating being a problem and that it should not be minimized or overlooked by parents or medical professionals when children refuse to eat more than a few foods.

If a parent believes that their child is having more than the average problems being introduced to new foods, it is wise to discuss this with the child’s pediatrician. If they continue to exhibit significant picky eating behaviors over many months, or a year or more, parents should ask for a referral to a feeding clinic. Clinic staff can either offer direction as to how to address feeding issues, or assure parents that their child is within the range of normal eating behavior. Regardless, the child will receive the appropriate guidance and support which will benefit them throughout their life.

Children, who have a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder, autism, or other sensory deficit problems, commonly have more difficulties with eating than their peers. Early intervention is recommended to facilitate their being able to eat a healthy, diverse diet.

Did You Know? Did you know that all calories are not created equal? Since we have become aware of the number of calories in foods it has been thought that body weight directly relates to the number of calories consumed. However, the National Institutes of Health recently tested the hypothesis that all calories are not equal by conducting a study comparing low-fat diets with low-carbohydrate diets of the same calorie density. What was found was that the low-fat diet beat the low-carb diet by weight loss even though the calories consumed were the same. Participants in the study lost 463 grams of weight on the low-fat diet and only 245 grams on the low-carb diet. Extrapolating the research findings using a low-fat diet could lead to the loss of 6 pounds more, over a 6 month period, than using a low-carb diet.

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