I like oranges. I really like oranges. But I go through cycles of eating them. When I start, they are really sweet. By my fifth of the day they have turned quite bitter.

Sensing a pattern I have performed an experiment.

The theory is that the more vitamin C I eat, the less I want foods that contain vitamin C. So, I stopped eating oranges for a month. I had one orange and it was really sweet - which validates the inverse of my theory (the less vitamin C I eat the more I want foods that contain it).

I then started taking vitamin C tablets for a week and had an orange, and it was bitter. To make sure it wasn't just a bitter orange I asked a friend to share it with me (without explaining why I wanted to share the orange with him). He said it was very sweet and enjoyed it loads.

I have been unable to locate studies or anecdotes regarding this sort of thing.

So, my question:

Do our bodies alter our taste buds based on what we eat in order to maintain a stable balance of nutrients, vitamins, etc? (by encouraging/discouraging us to eat food x because we need/don't need the nutrients/vitamins/etc)?

I have previously noticed a similar alteration in sense of taste for spinach for a little while. I assume I needed the iron?

From an evolutionary point of view this makes sense - as a way of encouraging us to eat what we need to stay healthy.

1 Answer 1


So it's important to separate cravings/specific hungers from taste.

One's body should, to some degree be able to adjust it's specific hungers to meet it's dietary needs. This one area where our larger brains come with a catch 22. While being smarter and aware allows us to feed ourselves better, we also can ignore or improperly process the bodies attempt to control our appetites.

Moving on to taste buds (here is a better review than wiki). The average taste bud lasts 8-12 days (ibid), so if you're noticing an effect before then, it's probably not related. Also, there development and distribution is associated with genetic and epigenetic factors, not environment and diet.

Instead I think that you are noticing that your taste receptors, like most sensory systems, become less responsive after saturation and repeated stimulation.

If we look at part F of the following figure:

Choi et al figure 5

You will notice how the response of the taste bud to a salty solution decreased significantly after each application (the time between each stimulus was 10 min). Thus something that started as tasty and salty 30 min ago won't by the time you've finished gorging yourself on oranges.

A way to test this at home, with the extreme caveat that I do not recommend super dosing vitamin C, would be to try this with a fixed dose (appropate for age and weight) of vitamin C dissolved in water over the same interval you were eating the oranges. I think you will notice little to no change in the taste of the vitamin C unless you are doing it in a very short amount of time.

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