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Surprising Science

Why Your Brain Won’t Go Vegan

A shocking discovery in the science of taste indicates that the source of gustatory pleasure comes after we eat food. It seems our guts prefer animal protein despite what we make our diet.

What’s the Latest Development?

A recent study published in Neuron by Duke researchers examined mice without a functional TRPM5 channel, which is essential for detecting sweetness. As a result, these mutant mice showed no immediate preference for sugar water. “The scientists then allowed the mice to spend some time with the sugar water and normal water. After a few hours, it became clear that the mutant mice greatly preferred the sugar water, even though they couldn’t taste the sugar.” The study demonstrates that our brains appreciate the calories we intake more than the taste of food. 

What’s the Big Idea?

We are so convinced that the tongue is the source of culinary joy, says Jonah Lehrer, but it’s not. “We love the flavor of denatured protein, because, being protein and water ourselves, we need it. Our body produces over 40 grams of glutamate a day, so we constantly crave an amino acid refill. In fact, we are trained from birth to savor umami: breast milk has ten times more glutamate than cow milk. Needless to say, this research is bad news for those admirable souls trying to go vegan, since umami remains mostly easily accessible in meats and cheeses.”


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