As you age, you’re likely to find that your sense of taste starts to decline, just like your eyesight. You were born with 10,000 taste buds, but after you turn 50, that number starts to gradually decrease.
“We don’t have a full understanding of why taste perception declines with age,” says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, of Altoona, Pennsylvania, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and author of The Doctors’ Detox Diet. She notes, however, that studies in mice show that their taste cells turn over, resulting in their having fewer of them over time, which may explain why it happens in humans, too.
Another factor may be a diminished sense of smell. Experts say flavor is actually a combination of taste and smell, so if you lose your ability to detect particular aromas — which happens as you age — you’re limited to basic taste sensations picked up by your tongue, which won’t be as strong or as complex.
Still another reason your sense of taste diminishes with age is that you produce less saliva, so your mouth is drier. When your mouth is dry, it’s harder to swallow, and eating may not be as enjoyable.
Loss of Taste Poses Risks
Loss of your sense of taste shouldn’t be dismissed as just one of the effects of aging, because it can have serious consequences for senior health. Of your four taste sensations — sweet, salty, sour, and bitter — sweet and salty are often the first to go, so at the very least, you may over-salt your food, which could cause your blood pressure to rise and put your heart health at risk.
Furthermore, if you lose the ability to taste certain foods, you may also lose interest in eating them, which could affect the amount of nutrients you consume, says Dr. Gerbstadt. You could even accidentally consume food that has gone bad or contains harmful ingredients. Researchers at Virginia Tech found that as people age, they’re less likely to detect chemicals such as iron in their drinking water. These compounds give the water a metallic flavor that older people can’t taste, which puts them at risk for overexposure to iron and copper — a possible risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.
How to Make Meals More Enjoyable
So what can you do to counteract the loss of taste as you get older? First, check with your doctor to rule out any medical conditions that are causing you to lose your sense of taste. If it’s a medical condition, treatment may be available. If the loss of taste is due to normal aging, there really aren’t any known cures to reverse it, Gerbstadt says. But there are things you can do to keep it from interfering with your health or your enjoyment of life:
- Make meals social events. Eat with other seniors or at extended-family celebrations, potluck dinners, and community meals, Gerbstadt says. You’re more likely to eat well and get proper nutrition when you’re having a good time with family and friends. Shut-ins also can benefit from Meals-on-Wheels or other similar programs where friendly drivers with nutritious meals appear at their door.
- Watch the temperature. Food that is supposed to be hot tastes better when it actually is hot, and food that is supposed to be served cold tastes better when it is cold, says Jessica Crandall, RD, CDE, program director for Sodexo Wellness and Nutrition Services and an ADA spokeswoman. “To increase the taste, you may need to make your dishes a little warmer or a little colder,” she says.
- Use more herbs and spices. Herbs and spices will add flavor without increasing your blood pressure the way that salt does, Gerbstadt says. “There are hundreds available that will liven up any entrée or meal.” Crandall recommends basil for Italian foods; cilantro for Mexican, Latin American, and Asian cuisine; oregano for Italian and Greek cuisine; and turmeric for Indian cuisine. Cooked vegetables such as beets, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, turnips, and winter squash can benefit from some caraway, and dill seeds are a great addition to rice and fish dishes. Another no- or low-sodium option is citrus juice, citrus zest, or flavored and aged vinegars, Gerbstadt says.
- Try something new. “When you try new foods and experiment with recipes, you create variety,” Crandall says. “Variety can make meals more enticing and can build better nutrition into what you’re eating.” Even seniors who are set in their ways can be tempted to try something new and nutritious if it contains ingredients they like.
- Savor your favorite meal. People very often have a particular time of day when they have a bigger appetite. For some, it’s right after they wake up, so breakfast is their main meal. For others, it’s later in the day, when they’re more alert but relaxed. Pay attention to what time of day you’re hungriest, and then make the most out of the meal that coincides with that time.
Full story at Everyday Health