How to slow down taste deterioration as you age
As the years go by, some may find themselves reaching for more salt, pepper, ketchup, hot sauce—anything to give your meal an extra kick. If this sounds familiar, you may have a bigger issue than bland food.
More than 200,000 people see their doctors due to issue with their sense of taste or smell every year, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Doctors estimate the number of affected people is much higher, as many people are quick to ignore the change in taste.
But the loss of any senses can have major implications on a person’s well-being as they age. Specifically, a diminished sense of taste can lead to overconsumption of salt, increasing the risk of high blood pressure.
How do we sense taste?
At birth, the human tongue has more than 10,000 taste buds. These “buds ” are clumps of sensory cells, which send signals to the brain that we interpret as taste. Taste buds can sense five basic flavors: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami (or savory, like the taste of beef broth). And some taste buds are more sensitive to each.
These five basic flavors combine with other factors —such as texture, spiciness, and smell—to create taste. Aroma has so much to do with how we distinguish flavor that, often, patients complaining of a loss of taste are actually losing their sense of smell.
What makes our sense of taste decline?
There are several factors that can contribute to the loss of taste, including the following:
- Saliva glands becoming damaged or underproducing saliva
- Upper respiratory and middle ear infections
- Exposure to certain medications and chemicals
- Head injuries
- Gum disease or poor oral hygiene
- Some cancer treatments
Additionally, you start losing some of those 10,000 taste buds after the age of 50. This means you may start losing your sense of taste simply because your body isn’t maintaining or producing as many sensitive sensory cells.
Possible risks associated with loss of taste
Losing your sense of taste can make it easier to eat spoiled foods or drinks, or it could cause you to miss cues about food you are allergic to. It also can lead to a change in your dietary habits, like eating too little or too much.
Not only that, reaching for the salt or sugar can be problematic too. If you have diabetes or a heart disease, you may not realize that you are over-consuming ingredients that are problematic for your health.
How to overcome diminishing taste
There are a number of ways you can try to compensate for losing your taste that don’t involve the saltshaker:
- Incorporate lots of textures and colors into your meals
- Use herbs that provide a lot of aroma and hot spices for flavor
- Avoid making foods that are all combined, like pot pies, since the ingredients’ flavors won’t be easily identifiable
Don’t forget to make sure it’s not your sense of smell, medication, or an oral health issue that’s affecting your taste. If you do find it’s just your taste buds slowing down, don’t get discouraged. You aren’t alone, and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders is working to find ways to treat smell and taste disorders.