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Why Does Water Taste Weird?

Nina Ghamrawi, MS, RD, CDE
January 22, 2023
February 3, 2023

Today’s food environment, loaded with hyper-palatable processed foods bursting with extreme flavors not found in nature, is no doubt contributing to our cravings and affecting our taste buds.

How The Tongue Works

Our taste buds are responsible for helping us enjoy the many flavors the world has to offer. When our taste buds encounter food and other substances, the taste cells inside send messages to the brain that help us make sense of what we are tasting. These taste cells work in conjunction with chemical and physical senses to produce what we know as “flavor.”

Humans are born with around 10,000 taste buds. Most of these are on the tongue, itself. These taste buds help us enjoy the five primary tastes:

  • sweet
  • sour
  • salty
  • bitter
  • umami

Various factors can affect our taste buds and change the way we perceive taste, including aging, illness, and even the flavor of food! Here are some of the factors that can contribute to a change in your taste buds and, effectively, change how natural or plain foods taste.

Causes of Taste Bud Changes

Changes in our taste buds can greatly affect the way we perceive flavor. Foods can become bland and lack flavor. Your taste buds' perception of flavor can be impaired by a variety of factors:

  • Medications
  • Bacterial infections
  • Nerve damage (from surgical procedures in the mouth, brain damage, dental surgery, ear infections or surgery)
  • Nutrient deficiencies (vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, zinc, copper)
  • Smoking
  • Advanced age
  • Hyper-flavored foods

The most critical one, and most common cause of taste bud changes is actually just your taste buds becoming accustomed to extreme flavors, making them desensitized to the nuances of flavor in more mild and natural foods. For example, if you repeatedly eat extra spicy or salty foods, your taste buds will continue to seek out that heightened sense of flavor, and have less sensitivity to mildly salted and mildly spicy foods (you may not think they are salty or spicy at all, but your company will taste it differently.

How to Change Your Taste Buds

Outside of illness, aging, or other causes, taste perception is generally constant. Animal research from 2006 suggested our taste buds turnover every 10 days, and newer research suggests that around 10 percent of the cells in these taste buds turnover each day.

Takeaways

Changing how your taste buds perceive flavor takes just 10 days, but improves a little each day. So if you want to resensitize your taste buds to natural flavors, and allow you to drink bottled water without gagging, all you need to do is adjust the flavors of the foods you eat to gradually be less adorned with extra salt, spice, and sugar. At first the food will taste disgusting, too. But every day that you uphold your new flavoring system, makes every sip of water and every healthy meal thereafter more tolerable and even flavorful. After about 2 weeks of upholding this change, you’ll be back to drinking regular water.

So what are you waiting for? HYDRATE! And also remember that these heightened flavors in foods will also lead to trouble controlling cravings. Stay tuned for more articles about cravings.