We all have tastes we love, and tastes we hate. And yet, our preferences for certain flavors and foods can change over time, as we get older or we get tired of eating the same old thing.

Scientists have long assumed that our antipathy towards bitter tastes evolved as a defense mechanism to detect potentially harmful toxins in plants. Our taste buds are trying to help us avoid digesting any glucosinolates, which inhibit iodine uptake by the thyroid, increasing the risk of a goiter and altering the levels of thyroid hormones. The ability to detect and avoid naturally-occurring glucosinolates would confer a selective advantage to the over 1 billion people who presently eat foods with low levels of iodine and thus are at risk.

A new study gives more evidence about what’s going on in the brain when we taste something we like, or develop a liking for something we once hated. Neuroscientists and psychologists are monitoring how neurons fire to signal pleasure in an area of the brain known as the ventral pallidum, which is a kind of traffic center for signals from different areas of the brain that process tastes and pleasurable sensations. If firing patterns go wrong there, it could possibly contribute to eating disorders, anorexia and drug addiction.

Besides our brains, our taste is a complicated combination of our tongues, our noses, psychological cues and exposure to different foods. Scientists think our brains are programmed to want fat, a necessity in a time of food scarcity, but a real problem in the modern world of obesity.

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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