Caffeine curtails your mouth’s ability to sense sweets
Science has discovered a great way to keep my kids away from soda (and coffee.) Even though the caffeine in these drinks feels like it amps us up, it’s actually doing so by blocking activity in your adenosine receptors. That’s not going to scare my kids away from caffeinated drinks, but they were a bit worried by the fact that it also suppresses our ability to taste sweet flavors. For an eight- and a four-year-old, no amount of alertness is worth the satisfaction of sugar, even if that drink has sugar itself.
This effect was tested in a lab with coffee alone. All participants were offered coffee sweetened with the same amount of sugar, then asked to rate how alert they felt, and what they thought of the coffee’s flavor. What these folks didn’t know was that all the coffee was originally decaffeinated, and only the experimental group’s beverages had 200 milligrams of caffeine added back in. This allowed researchers to control exactly how much caffeine was being ingested, and rule out differences in flavor between regular and decaffeinated grounds.
Half the sugar and all the caffeine
Test participants who had recaffeinated coffee consistently rated it as tasting less sweet than people who drank straight decaf. Nobody caught on to the difference in the beans though, as just about every participant felt that they were perked up by their beverage, suggesting that there was a placebo effect at play. Even if that placebo was somehow slowing adenosine receptors in people’s brains, nothing was blocking their taste receptors.
The concern here is that caffeinated folks might crave the sugary sensation that they’re not tasting, even though they’re still eating it. Rather than settle for less, they may compensate for the perceived lack of sugar by eating more, upping their calorie count without really being aware of what’s going on. Since my wife and I are theoretically gatekeepers on our kids’ sugar intake, they’ve decided not to risk missing out on the sugary snacks they’re allowed to enjoy, and made pledges to avoid soda (and my coffee.)
My third grader asked: So when my cousin drinks those sodas he can’t taste dessert as well?
That’s the gist of this experiment. The first sip of a soda should be delightfully sweet, but as the caffeine kicks in, taste receptors would be temporarily blocked and the drink would taste just a bit less sugary. So what’s the point in that, right?
Source: Caffeine Tempers Taste, Triggering Temptation For Sweets, Scienmag