Many pregnant women develop food aversions. It's normal, and they're usually short-lived, ending at some point during the pregnancy or after it's over. When I was pregnant with my oldest I had severe aversions to chicken and broccoli. At some point before my son was born, I was able to handle chicken again, but I've never been able to get back my taste for broccoli.
I'd really like to love broccoli again, and maybe a new field of science can figure out how to help me.
Through a study called neurogastronomy, scientists think they can change how we think about food by rewiring our brains and our natural taste perceptions, according to The Atlantic. The reason children automatically like sweet foods is because they biologically have an understanding that sweet means calories and energy, while bitter means beware. A long time ago that knowledge was necessary for survival because getting food — any kind of food — was very hard work.
Today, sweetened foods are some of the easiest to come by, and that fact is taking its toll on health. In the United States, over one-third of Americans are obese, and that obesity is linked to Type 2 diabetes, which is on the rise. Clearly, we don't need our sweet tooth for survival anymore, and it's likely doing us more harm than good.
Neurogastronomy could take two different paths. It could rewire our brains into thinking foods like broccoli taste sugary, but that would do nothing but reinforce our brain's desire for sweet things. The other path is to make our brains think the taste of broccoli is more desirable than the taste of sweet foods, and that's the goal of neurgastronomy.
Flavor doesn't begin on the tongue or with our sense of smell. It begins in our brains. As The Atlantic explains, neurogastronomy "considers how food molecules are interpreted in the brain and how they influence brain regions that control emotion, memories, food preferences, cravings and appetite."
How neurogastronomy works
Nothing is done to the food to change the way it tastes. What neurogastronomy does is study how to craft dishes — how to cook them, what foods to put together, and even which plates or utensils to use — to rewire the brain to think about the food differently. It can help people who have lost or changed their sense of taste (through Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, epilepsy, brain injury, cancer treatment, and maybe even pregnancy) begin to taste regularly again. It can even make certain foods appeal to those who are colorblind, according to Eater.
Researchers and culinary professionals got together at the University of Kentucky late in 2016 to use neurogastronomy to personalize dishes that could appeal to chemotherapy patients who had lost their interest in eating, the Atlantic says. The experts shared insights about textures, pungency and other factors in hopes they could "trigger some sensations to help patients regain the desire to eat."
Neurogastronomy has the potential to "shed light into the behavioral patterns that lead to obesity and eating disorders," according to Eater. It could break down the physical and psychological reasons that lead to overeating or eating poorly, and then create curated solutions for individuals.
Neurogastronomy is still in its infancy. The term was coined in 2006 when Yale neuroscientist Gordon Shepherd connected the importance of odors to particular flavors. There's a lot of scientific and culinary research that still has to be done, but it shows promise. It could benefit the obese, those who have lost their sense of taste, and those who have lost their appetite, all without altering food itself.