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Always Crave Carbs? Your Taste Buds Could Be To Blame

Just like the 'sweet' taste, you can have a heightened 'carb' taste.

When it comes to food and food indulgences, we all have different tastes and cravings. For some the idea of a good feed is pizza with garlic bread, for others it's buttery pastries and cakes, and for others it's salty foods like chips and pretzels.

Eating is a sensory experience and taste is one of the senses -- the five basic 'tastes' are salt, sweet, sour, bitter and umami, and fat is considered the sixth. But recent research suggests there is one more: starchy carbs.

In a fascinating discovery, researchers from Deakin's Centre of Advanced Sensory Science found that people have a taste sensitivity to carbohydrates.

This sensitivity increases intake of carbs and energy, and correlates with a larger waist measurement. In other words, our heightened sensitivity to this taste can lead us to load up on starchy foods and make us gain weight. Yay.

To understand more about this carbohydrate taste, HuffPost Australia spoke to Russell Keast, professor of sensory science and director of the Centre of Advanced Sensory Science at Deakin University.

"It is typically sugar with its hedonically-pleasing sweet taste that is the most sought-after carbohydrate," Keast said. "But our research has shown that there is a perceivable taste quality elicited by other carbohydrates independent of sweet taste."

This research looked at two carbohydrates, maltodextrin and oligofructose, both found in common foods like bread, pasta, legumes and rice. Keast and the researchers assessed people's sensitivity to these carbohydrates.

"It's a very simple test, which we did the same for fat: we put three aqueous solutions in front of them which contained a small amount of the maltodextrin or the oligofructose. If they could name the solution correctly three times in a row, this is the level of which the sensitivity is determined," Keast explained.

"Some people required significantly higher concentrations of the carbohydrate to be able to identify it, while some people could get it at very low concentrations. So we can start to split the population on their sensitivity to these carbohydrates."

It's important to note this carbohydrate sensitivity is different to our sweet sensitivity.

"Another group in Oregon have also looked at carbohydrate and sweetness together, and there is no association between sweet taste and carbohydrate taste sensitivity. If you're sensitive to carbohydrate it doesn't mean you're going to be sensitive to sweet, and vice versa."

The sweet and carb tastes aren't the same, researchers find.
The sweet and carb tastes aren't the same, researchers find.

Once the researchers split people into whether they were more or less sensitive to carbs, they then looked at their diet overall.

"In this case we did both diet diaries (where you record what you're eating, the time, recipes and portion sizes) and the other was a food frequency questionnaire which is more a case of 'over the past year how many times have you eaten lentils', for example," Keast said.

"Then we looked at those who are sensitive to see if there was a difference in diet compared to the others. What we found was that people who were more sensitive to carbohydrate actually consumed more starchy food and they also had significantly larger waist circumference."

Even more interesting is the fact that some (unlucky) people may have a double whammy taste mechanism for both carbs and fat. We're looking at you, mac and cheese, and bread and butter.

"This is the opposite of what we saw when we researched fat sensitivity -- the more sensitive you were to fat the less fat you ate. However, with carbohydrate, the more sensitive you are, the more starchy foods you're eating," Keast told HuffPost Australia.

"If you've got somebody who is sensitive to carbohydrate and insensitive to fat, that's not a good combination to have simply because you've got two accelerators working together."

Damn you greasy, cheesy pizza.
Damn you greasy, cheesy pizza.

Although we know there is a taste drive for carbs, the researchers don't yet know the mechanism behind it.

"We can't draw conclusions that carbohydrate is causing the increased waist circumference, but it is interesting," Keast said.

"In this study we've classified people in terms of how sensitive or insensitive they are towards carbohydrates. We now need to figure out why people who are classified as more sensitive are also consuming more starchy foods."

Future research could help those with a carb and fat drive who may have issues with weight and weight-related diseases.

"Another step we're looking at is whether this combination is a real problem. Are there significant portions of the population who are sensitive to carbohydrate and insensitive to fat?" Keast said.

"Once we figure this out, we can start to hopefully devise effective strategies to help these people feel more satisfied with appropriate portions and perhaps not have the drive to consume, consume and consume."

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