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Vegetables: For Bitter or For Worse?

    Vegetable haters are everywhere...our numbers are legion. No matter how much we hear about veggies' disease-fighting power, we just can't overcome our dislike enough to take advantage of all the nutritional benefits they deliver.

People who don't like vegetables are often dismissed as picky eaters. But there may be more to a dislike than being picky. Recent research has uncovered a group of people called supertasters who are genetically sensitive to bitterness.

Until the late 1970's, taste researchers grouped people as "tasters" and "nontasters," depending on their ability to taste a chemical called phenylthiocarbamide. Then Linda Bartoshuk, Ph.D., a taste researcher at the Yale University School of Medicine, began to test people for sensitivity to a similar chemical, called 6-n-propylthiouracil. Her research revealed a subset of tasters who were particularly sensitive to the bitter flavor. She dubbed such people as "supertasters". About 25% of the population are super-tasters, 25% nontasters, and the rest are regular tasters.

As luck would have it, the compounds that give vegetables their health benefits also happen to be--you guessed it--bitter, but their benefits are sweet.

  According to The American Dietetic Association, vegetables contain compounds that help prevent and reduce cancer and heart disease and fiber that speeds toxins through the digestive tract before they can do harm. The compounds that make veggies cancer-fighting powerhouses are called phytochemicals.

How do you overcome the bitterness? According to Paul Breslin, Ph.D.,an assistant member at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, some bitter compounds are lipophilic, meaning they readily dissolve in fat. So it's possible that putting a little fat in the form of a cheese sauce or creamy salad dressing on vegetables will suppress the bitter taste.

Breslin says that salt blocks bitter flavors (such as the naturally sharp flavor of chocolate) and acts as a filter that lets more desirable flavors shine through. Lightly dusting your veggies with salt may make them more palatable.

If bitterness of raw vegetables makes you skimp on greens, try microwaving, steaming, or stir-frying them instead. The process of heating them up helps dull the bite.
["The Bitter Truth", Linda Formichelli, Walking, September/October 1998]


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