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People with a ‘sixth’ sense for carbs are more obese

If you struggle to stop yourself reaching for bread, pasta and potatoes your taste buds could be to blame, according to new research.

It has long been thought we have five ‘official’ tastes: salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami. Now food scientists have found evidence of a sixth: for carbohydrates.

People who were most sensitive to the taste of starch ate more of these foods and had a larger waist, which may explain why some people are more likely to be obese.

Experts have presumed the craving for carbohydrates is driven by the sugar fix they provide.

But researchers from Deakin University in Australia believe some people can directly detect the taste of starch.

New research suggests carb lovers can blame their more sensitive taste buds (stock photo)

‘We specifically looked at waist measurements, as they are a good measure of the risk of dietary related diseases,’ said researcher Julia Low.

‘Those who were most sensitive to the carbohydrate taste ate more of these foods and had a larger waist.’ 

More than one-third of US adults are obese and one in four Britons.

A person is considered overweight if they have a body mass index (BMI) between 25 and 29, and obese with a BMI of 30 and above. 

Key findings   

In a study of 34 adults, published in the Journal of Nutrition, a team discovered the mouth could sense two common carbohydrates found in bread, pasta and rice.

They also examined how sensitive people were to that taste, their carbohydrate intake, their calorie intake overall, and waist measurements.


A reduced ability to taste sweetness may cause weight gain, recent research suggests.

People with a diminished capacity to detect sweet flavors have a significantly increased desire for such foods, a study found.

For every 20 per cent reduction in a somebody’s ability to taste sugar, they add an extra one teaspoon of the sweet stuff to their meals, the research adds.

Lead author Professor Robin Dando from Cornell University, said: ‘[Past research has] suggested that the overweight may have a reduction in their perceived intensity of taste. 

‘So, if an overweight or obese person has a diminished sense of taste, our research shows that they may begin to seek out more intense stimuli to attain a satisfactory level of reward.’ 

‘Increased energy intake, in particular greater intakes of energy-dense foods, is thought to be one of the major contributors to the global rise of overweight and obesity, and carbohydrates represent a major source of energy in our diet,’ said the study’s lead researcher Professor Russell Keast. 

It has long been thought that our tongues register a small number of primary tastes: salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami, the savoury taste often associated with monosodium glutamate, a flavour enhancer commonly added to Chinese food. 

Two years ago, Keast and his team conducted research that suggested fat should be added to the list of things we can directly taste.

However, they found that the people who were more sensitive to fat consumed less fatty foods – the complete opposite of their findings with the latest study on carbohydrates.

‘What that could mean is that individuals who are more sensitive to the “taste” of carbohydrate also have some form of subconscious accelerator that increases carbohydrate or starchy food consumption,’ explained Professor Keast.

‘But we need to do much more research to identify the reason why.’