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Why a ‘bad’ taste can be ‘good’ news for your health

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It’s fairly obvious that foods that are bad for us generally taste good. Most unhealthy options such as processed, pre-packaged food and fast food from take-away restaurants are pumped full of sugar, fat and salt. These unhealthy constituents taste appealing, and light up the pleasure centres in our brain when we eat them. Eating fats and sugars causes increases in serotonin in the reward areas of our brain, in a similar way to taking recreational drugs. [1] [2] 

One study conducted on rats found that regular administration of fatty foods induced a cocaine-like addiction:[3] electrodes monitoring brain activity showed that after frequent fatty food consumption the rats developed a tolerance to the pleasure they got from fatty foods, and thus they compulsively sought out larger amounts, even when given electric shocks for eating it. Furthermore, they also became less inclined to eat nutritious food, even when nutritious food was the only food available.

Conversely, many people dislike, or even have aversions to, food that is highly nutritious. Brussels sprouts are commonly disliked, but are actually highly beneficial. They have been shown to reduce DNA damage[4] and increase levels of detoxifying enzymes,[5] both of which are mechanisms that can potentially reduce the risks of certain cancers. Many people also do not like the taste of fish, particularly strong tasting oily fish. However certain types of oily fish can help to reduce inflammation in the body, reducing the risks of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers and improving improve brain function and mood.[6] This is because oily fish is rich in vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acids, which benefit brain and heart function.[7]

Ginger root, which many people feel has an overpowering spicy taste, aids digestion,[8] reduces inflammation[9] and can help to prevent blood clots.[9] In addition, studies have also shown that ginger powder can induce cell death in ovarian cancer cells,[10] and that it can prevent gastrointestinal cancers.[11] It also has other beneficial effects, including giving relief from pain,[12] heartburn[11] and migraines.[13] Mushrooms are also commonly disliked, mostly due to their texture. However they bring a lot to the table. They provide a lot of nutrition considering they’re very low in calories and salt, and are cholesterol and fat free. They are also a great source of B vitamins.[14] [15] Another food, Miso, is a dark brown paste that isn't very attractive and is quite strongly flavoured. It is a form of fermented soy derivative, which has has been linked to reduced incidences of cancer and hypertension.[16] [17] Seaweed, which might appear slimy, can favourably improve estrogen and phytoestrogen metabolism in postmenopausal women and can modulate bacteria in the gastrointestinal system.[18] It has also been reported to contain compounds that possess strong anti-cancer and antiviral actions. 

So, it is important to realise the many benefits of foods that you might otherwise turn you nose up at. Whilst no-one should feel forced to eat foods that they dislike, the multitude of health boosting properties of these unpalatable foods may just sweeten the deal, and encourage you to broaden your taste horizons.


[1] Fortuna, JL. (2012) The obesity epidemic and food addiction: clinical similarities to drug dependence. J Psychoactive Drugs. 44(1). 56-63.

[2] Young, SN. (2007) How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. J Psychiatry Neurosci. 32(6). 394-9.

[3] Kenny, PJ. (2011) Reward mechanisms in obesity: new insights and future directions. Neuron. 69(4). 664-79.

[4] Verhagen, H, Poulsen, HE, Loft, S, van Poppel G, Wilems, MI, van Bladeren, PJ. (1995) Reduction of oxidative DNA-damage in humans by Brussels sprouts. Carcinogenesis. 16(4). 969-70.

[5] Nijhoff, WA, Grubben, MJAL, Nagengast, FM, Jansen, JBMJ, Verhagn, H, van Poppel, G, Peters, WHM. (1995) Effects of consumption of Brussels sprouts on intestinal and lymphocytic glutathione S-transferases in humans. Carcinogenesis. 16(9). 2125-8.

[6] Ellulu, MS, Khaza’ai, H, Abed, Y, Rahmat, A, Ismail, P, Ranneh, Y. (2015) Role of fish oil in human health and possible mechanism to reduce the inflammation. Inflammopharmacology. 23(2-3). 79-89.

[7] Hearn, TL, Sgoutas, SA, Hearn, JA, Sgoutas, DS. (1987) Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Fat in Fish Flesh for Selecting Species for Health Benefits. J Food Sci. 52(5). 1209-11.

[8] Valussi, M. (2012) Functional foods with digestion-enhancing properties. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 63(S1). 82-9.

[9] Thomson, M, Al-Qattan, KK, Al-Sawan, SM, Alnaqeeb, MA, Khan, I, Ali, M. (2002) The use of ginger (Zingiber officinale Rosc.) as a potential anti-inflammatory and antithrombotic agent. Prostagland Leukotrienes, Ess Fatty Acids. 67(6). 475-8.

[10] Rhode, J, Fogoros, S, Zick, S, Wahl, H, Griffith, KA, Huang, J, Liu, JR. (2007) Ginger inhibits cell growth and modulates angiogenic factors in ovarian cancer cells. Biomed Central. [epub] DOI: 10.1186/1472-6882-7-44.

[11] Prasad, S, Tyagi, AK. (2015) Ginger and its constituents: role in prevention and treatment of gastrointestinal cancer. Gastroenterol Res Pract. [epub]  doi: 10.1155/2015/142979. 

[12] Shirvani, MA, Motahari-Tabari, N, Alipour, A. (2015) The effect of mefenamic acid and ginger on pain relief in primary dysmenorrhea: a randomized clinical trial. Arch Gynecol Obstet. 291(6). 1277-81.

[13] Cady, RK, Goldstein, J, Nett, R, Mitchell, R, Beach, ME, Browning, R. (2011) A Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Pilot Study of Sublingual Feverfew and Ginger (LipiGesicTMM) in the Treatment of Migraine. Headache. 51(7). 1078-86.

[14] Mattila, P, Könkö, K, Eurola, M, Pihlava, JM, Astola, J, Vahteristo, L, Hietaniemi, V, Kumpulainen, J, Valtonen, M, Piironen, V. (2001) Contents of vitamins, mineral elements, and some phenolic compounds incultivated mushrooms. J Agri Food Chem. 49(5). 2343-8.

[15] Furlani, RPZ, Godoy, HT. (2008) Vitamins B1 and B2 contents in cultivated mushrooms. Food Chem. 106(2). 816-9.

[16] Santiago, LA, Hiramatsu, M, Mori, A. (1992) Japanese Soybean Paste Miso Scavenges Free Radicals and Inhibits Lipid Peroxidation. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol. 38(3). 297-304.

[17] Watanabe, H. (2013) Beneficial Biological Effects of Miso with Reference to Radiation Injury, Cancer and Hypertension. J Toxicol Pathol. 26(2). 91-103.

[18] Teas, J, Hurley, TG, Hebert, JR, Franke, AA, Sepkovic, DW, Kurzer, MS. (2009) Dietary Seaweed Modifies Estrogen and Phytoestrogen Metabolism in Healthy Postmenopausal Women. J Nutr. 139(5). 939-44.


 

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