Why is it that my sister complains that Splenda has a weird aftertaste when I could easily heap spoonfuls of it into my coffee? Why, at our childhood dinner table, did she leave most of her veggies untouched while I eagerly gobbled mine up? Why do I feel compelled to drown my food in spices and condiments while she prefers white pizza to traditional? Furthermore, could this have anything to do with the fact that I have always struggled with my weight while she effortlessly maintains a lean frame?

Surprisingly, the answer to this question is yes, and the reason why necessitates a little lesson on the concept of super-tasters, average-tasters, and non-tasters. The term super-taster came first, after scientist Linda Bartoshuk found that different subjects of hers reacted very differently to exactly the same taste while studying saccharine.

She continued her experiments by giving her subjects small tastes of the thyroid medication 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP). "Super-tasters" found it incredibly unpleasant, "average tasters" found it bitter but not unbearable, and "non-tasters" didn't notice it at all.

Bartoshuk then found that this variance seemed to be correlated with the number of papillae, or taste buds, on these subject's tongues. The "super-tasters" with many taste buds seemed to be tasting in "neon" what the less endowed "non-tasters" were tasting in "pastels."

A more convenient way to check whether you are a super-taster is to stick out your tongue and count how many little raised spots, or taste buds, are present in a quarter-inch area of it. To make this easier, you can color your tongue with blue food coloring, so that the taste buds will appear as raised pink spots.

If your number is more than 30, you're probably a super-taster! If you have between 15 and 30 taste buds per quarter-inch, you are likely an average taster, and if you found fewer than 15, odds are that you're a non-taster.

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Super-tasters tend to avoid strong flavors such as those found in coffee, rich desserts, and green vegetables. Presumably because they like less foods, including foods with an overly high fat or sugar content, super-tasters tend to have lower-than-average BMIs.

Super-tasters also tend to dislike the taste of alcohol and the flavor of cigarette smoke, giving them another huge health leg-up. However, they can run into nutritional problems due to their tendency not to eat many vegetables or an appropriately varied diet, and thus have been found to have a higher risk of colon and stomach cancer.

Super-tasters can also sometimes have problems with high blood pressure and other diseases related to a high sodium intake. Since saltiness tends to be one of the few flavors they do enjoy, they will often use salt to drown out the bitter flavors they dislike.

Super-tasters make up about a quarter of the population, with non-tasters making up another quarter and the rest of us somewhere in the middle. People of Asian, African, and South American descent are most likely to be super-tasters, and women are more likely to be super-tasters than men are.

Scientists suspect that the genes for super-tasting came about since people who were more sensitive to bitter tastes could better avoid potential toxins, and that these genes are more common in women since they encourage more selective eating during pregnancy.

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Next, there are the non-tasters, who might be more accurately called under-tasters. They tend to enjoy a wider variety of food, as well as to use a lot of seasoning on their food.

Unfortunately, their strong preference for strong flavors means that they also tend to prefer higher-fat, sweeter, and higher-calorie foods, giving them a higher risk of obesity and cavities. Non-tasters are also far more likely than super-tasters to drink and smoke, and have a much higher risk of alcoholism.

The "average tasters," who tend to enjoy most, but not all foods, may have the best of both worlds. However, as if often the case, genetics isn't destiny. For example, some super-tasters have gradually conditioned themselves to enjoy coffee despite their initial aversion to it because they enjoy caffeine's stimulating effect.

Super-tasters may be able to stomach a greater variety of vegetables if they disguise the taste by blending them with more acceptable foods. These sensitive folks can also experiment with ways of preparation that can reduce bitter flavors and healthy condiments, like stevia and vinegar, that can suitably drown them out.

Meanwhile, a non-taster who avoids fatty and sugary foods may be able to eventually condition themselves to like those foods less. Luckily, the 123Diet's signature drops can make the transition a whole lot easier by suppressing the ability of our dieters to detect sweet tastes!

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