We detect taste with taste receptor cells that are located on the tongue. The taste cells are clustered in roughly 10,000 taste buds. Each taste bud has a pore that opens out to the surface of the tongue enabling molecules and ions taken into the mouth to reach the receptor cells inside. A single taste bud contains 50–100 taste cells representing all 5 basic taste sensations, sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. Umami is less well known and is the response to salts of “glutamic acid”. Monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavour enhancer used in many processed foods and in many Asian dishes, is a glutamic acid. Processed meats and cheeses also contain glutamate.
Our sense of taste together with tactile information such as temperature and texture plus our sense of smell will give us our perception of flavour. This will to a great extent determine our eating preferences.
We can be over or under sensitive to certain tastes, or even have a combination of both. It is also important to consider the oral-motor functioning, as poor muscle tone and retained primitive reflexes can play havoc with trying to follow a healthy diet.
There are many different types of eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorders and compulsive eating. Each of these disorders has distinct symptoms. Most people assume that the common thread of these disorders is that the person suffering has a problem with food. In reality, eating disorders are not about food, but rather are an unmistakable indicator that the person has underlying emotional difficulties in their life. Tackling the causes of these difficulties is a pre-requisite to solve eating disorders on a long term basis. We have found that sensory difficulties are often a contributing factor to emotional difficulties and have had good success with treating clients with eating disorders. A detailed assessment is an essential first step towards resolving eating disorders.
Although it is not easy to retrain our sense of taste, we have found that the intricate link between all five senses can be used to good effect. Retraining our hearing and vision senses will often lead to changes in smell and taste.