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Love Salt? You Just Might be a Supertaster

Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences food scientists discovered several years ago why some people have a harder time than others passing up the salt shaker or enjoying low-salt foods.

People who use lots of salt may be genetically influenced to do so, researchers learned. That’s because some people are naturally more sensitive to tastes such as bitterness or spiciness, and may use more salt to alter or cover those tastes.

For instance, salt is added to many cheeses to mask bitter flavors that occur naturally during the cheese’s ripening process. Someone who is particularly sensitive to the taste of those bitter flavors may not enjoy a low-salt cheese because there’s not enough salt to offset the bitterness of the cheese.

Scientists have known for many years that, just as individuals differ in hair color or eye color, there is a wide range in one’s ability to taste certain compounds. While some people are extremely sensitive to tastes such as sweetness, spiciness and saltiness, others barely detect them.

Those with extremely sensitive taste buds are known as supertasters, while those who do not easily perceive taste are known as non-tasters.

Supertasters tend to ingest more salt both because they enjoy the flavor of it, leading them to eat more salty foods, and because they use salt to mask other flavors that they find unpleasant.

The problem with that, of course, said Nicole Rhoads, a Penn State Health St. Joseph Registered Dietician, is that eating too much salt can raise blood pressure, increasing the possibility of stroke and heart attacks, and may cause other health problems. It’s recommended that adults and children 14 years and older consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day – about what’s found in one teaspoon of salt.

Those with hypertension should aim at consuming considerably less than that amount.

That can be difficult to do, Rhoads explained, because salt is prevalent in prepared foods, including condiments such as ketchup, soy sauce, pickles, olives and bottled salad dressing.

Convenience foods, snack foods and fast foods also tend to be very high in sodium.

One slice of pizza chain pepperoni pizza, for instance, might contain more than 800 milligrams of sodium, more than one-third of the recommended daily limit. The same goes for a bowl of canned soup.

So, regardless of whether you’re a supertaster or non-taster, how can you limit the amount of salt you consume? Here are some general tips Rhoads provided.

  • Avoid processed foods and convenience foods such as canned soup and frozen dinners
  • Eat more fresh and unprocessed foods, such as fruits and vegetables, plant-based proteins, unprocessed meats and low-fat dairy items
  • Omit salt from recipes when cooking
  • Use fresh herbs and spices to flavor foods, or an herb seasoning blend such as Mrs. Dash
  • Read food labels and choose low-sodium products over those containing a lot of salt
  • Prepare most of the food you consume at home
  • Find low-sodium recipes from reputable sources on line and try them out

Find out more from the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics’ tip sheet on “Eating Right with Less Salt”.

Nicole Rhoads, RD, LDN, Registered Dietitian If you are interested in individual outpatient nutrition counseling, contact Nicole at 610-378-2489 or NRhoads@pennstatehealth.psu.edu or schedule an appointment at 610-378-2100.


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