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‘Sweet tooth’ and bitter supertasting linked to metabolic syndrome risk

By Stephen Daniells , 31-Jan-2013
Last updated on 31-Jan-2013 at 18:32 GMT2013-01-31T18:32:59Z

‘Sweet tooth’ and bitter supertasting linked to metabolic syndrome risk

Having a sweet tooth or being a ‘supertaster’ for bitter flavors may put people at reduced risk of developing metabolic syndrome, but being both may not be so good, suggests a new study from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with implications for personalized dietary recommendations.

An exploratory analysis led by Prof Barry Popkin indicated that people who were only sweet tasters or bitter supertasters were at a lower risk of having metabolic syndrome than people with a combination of both characteristics.

But people who were described as both supertasters and sweet tasters - or neither - were found to consume less fiber, and more calories.

“Testing people for these tasting profiles may assist with tailoring dietary recommendations, particularly around fiber and caloric beverage intake,” wrote the researchers in the Journal of Food Science .

“Specifically, counseling those individuals who are both SL and ST or are non-SL and non-ST on ways to increase fiber and decrease caloric beverage intake as a way to modify metabolic syndrome risk may be needed.”


Metabolic syndrome refers to a cluster of conditions including high blood pressure, raised blood sugar level, excess body fat around the waist or low HDL (the good cholesterol) and increased blood triglycerides – all of which are known to significantly increase the risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

Around 25% of Americans are estimated to be affected by MetS.

Study details

The Chapel Hill-based scientists recruited 196 people and assessed their profile as being sweet liker and/or supertaster (bitter) or not. This data was then compared to the incidence of metabolic syndrome, and their dietary habits.

Results showed that sweet likers were more likely to be African American, and that fewer men than women were supertasters.

“Analyses showed that participants who were only a supertaster or sweet liker appeared to have a decreased risk of having metabolic syndrome compared with those who have a combination or are neither taster groups and that sweet liker and supertaster consumed less fiber than sweet liker plus non-supertaster,” they reported.

Commenting on the practical application of the results, the researchers noted that testing people for the supertasting and sweet tooth tasting profiles may “assist with tailoring dietary recommendations, particularly around fiber and caloric beverage intake, and provide a way to modify metabolic syndrome risk”.

Source: Journal of Food Science
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1111/1750-3841.12008
“Taking the Bitter with the Sweet: Relationship of Supertasting and Sweet Preference with Metabolic Syndrome and Dietary Intake”
Authors: G. Turner-McGrievy, D.F. Tate, D. Moore, B. Popkin 

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