Science and nature have long held the key to life’s unanswered questions. One of these questions, when it comes to food and nutrition, is why do some foods taste incredible to us and leave you wanting more, whilst others do not?
This is all down to something that food experts refer to as the ‘Bliss Point'.
The ‘Bliss Point’ of the taste of a food is due to the amounts of key ingredients contained within it – in particular the salt, sugar and fat content. These ingredients optimise the palatability and sensation of the food we are tasting and give us cravings to seek out and eat desirable foods.
Pioneering research into this topic carried out by Howard Moskowitz, an American market researcher and psychophysicist, described this important relationship with foods as "the sensory profile where we enjoy foods the most."
The 'Bliss Point' for salt, sugar, and fat is the point where we perceive that there is neither too much nor too little, but just the right amount of saltiness, sweetness, or richness within the foods we are eating.
This is because the human body has evolved to favour foods delivering these balanced tastes, as foods containing these proportions of ingredients were highly beneficial to us as species when we used to roam the earth looking for food. When we eat foods that contain this balance of taste and nutrients the human brain responds by delivering a "reward" in the form of an endorphin release. The brain subsequently remembers what we did to get this "reward" sensation and makes us want to do it again, which is an effect run by the neurotransmitter dopamine.
What does this mean in our day to day lives?
With this in mind, it is combinations of sugar, fat, and salt that act together far more effectively on this neurological response and are much more rewarding than any one of these ingredients alone. In fact, consuming too much of just one food substance, like sugar, will cause a sensory specific satiety more quickly and therefore consumption is likely to stop sooner. This is a defence mechanism put in place by our body and it is designed to prevent us from sensory overload. This is much like when you take a cold shower and it is initially a very uncomfortable shock to your system but then the longer you stay in your senses ease and become less overwhelmed by the cold.
The 'Bliss Point' of food on our sensory system has been known by food companies for many years and over time foods have been tweaked and recipes adapted to exploit this food sensation. As a result many processed foods are loaded with extra sugar, salt and fat to give us a bigger initial 'kick' when we first take a bite. This creates a powerful neurological reward in association with that particular food and subsequently a positive link to the company’s branding resulting in increased likelihood for repeat purchase.
It is worth noting that, just as we can create change to our body’s composition using physical exercise and overload training, the same is true with the continued exposure to these heightened food tastes. These increased tastes overload and toughen our tolerances to the richer, sweeter and saltier foods which can have a negative effect on how we perceive the taste of more naturally occurring foods since they do not quite meet our now newly heightened sensory expectations. Think of a drug user who requires increased levels of a substance in order to get the same ‘hit’.
Resetting your ‘Bliss Point’
Here are some great strategies and suggestions to get you right back on track, reset your taste buds and leave you wanting more healthy alternatives when it comes to satiating your cravings.
First of all, when trying any potentially new food combinations if you try them with a clear palate, having not just eaten any extremes of flavourings or singularly based macro nutrient dense meals like lots of bread or pasta, this enables your taste buds to be more receptive to the new sensations you will experience.
The Doughnut Alternative:
To hit the sweet spot or 'Bliss Point' between sugar and fat we will take a look at the simple plain doughnut as a really good example. The plain doughnut is a high simple carbohydrate, high fat, calorie dense snack and is a popular choice for many when it comes to that craving 'kick' we have been talking about. Why is this? Simply put, the sugar and fat content is roughly 50/50 – which is neither too sweet, definitely not salty, and just the right amount of richness in the fat to compliment all the sugar. A great healthy alternative here that will hit the same ratios of sugary sweetness and fatty richness that your palate now craves is a snack like raw coconut meat and dates. When consumed together a snack like coconut and dates has the added benefits of a healthy amount of dietary fibre, which improves the palatability aspect, our insulin response, and it also contains lots of micronutrients such as potassium and magnesium which are vital for many functions within the human body.
Doughnuts taste nothing like coconut I hear you say! Well, I couldn't agree more. This is just a personal favourite of mine that hits the spot in this craving scenario. I even lightly dust the dates with some organic cacao powder which further adds to my preferred taste sensation adding a chocolatey note to its flavouring bringing it very close in taste with a famous less healthy alternative that shall remain nameless. What I will say however, it is my choice of 'bounty' when it comes to healthy alternatives to chocolate treats. If a jam doughnut is however your thing then try combining strawberries, which are essentially the base of the doughnut filling (the sugar), with a small handful of nuts like cashews (the fat), to experiment with your body’s own personal 'Bliss Point' and tailor the taste to your own individual preference.
This may all be a little hard to believe knowing how enjoyable a doughnut can be but I promise you the science has you covered with this one. Just like your sensory system was trained to crave the doughnut in the first place it can easily be trained to recalibrate its neurological responses over time by consistently offering up the healthy alternatives with these correctly balanced proportions of taste.
Food companies for years have been tinkering with our taste buds and now is the time to tinker back and take control once again. Our own 'Bliss Points' are just as unique as we are and it is these tastes and sensations within our favourite foods we enjoy that should be explored. So next time you are tucking into your favourite food or snack that could be a little healthier, flip the packet over and read the ingredients. If you can pull out the main source of flavour that you enjoy then go straight to the raw natural ingredient and pair it with its equal counterpart of healthy sugar, healthy fat or natural salt that compliments its taste then the chances are you will hit your own personal ‘Bliss Point’.
With this new approach you will be on track to discovering your body’s own preferred taste sensations and be better in control over your cravings which will definitely help you further towards your own personal goals in the future.
Thanks for reading,