Feature Articles - Aging
Nothing tastes good anymore
Susan Mills-Gray, Nutrition Specialist, Cass County, University of Missouri Extension
“That recipe just doesn’t have the flavor that it used to.” You might hear this comment from an older adult, or maybe you’ve said it yourself. The truth is that the senses of smell, taste and touch may decline gradually with age. Medications and health conditions might also alter your flavor perceptions.
Smell and taste affect the quality of life and overall health. We all recognize such simple pleasures as the variety of flavors in a holiday meal, the aromas of bread baking or turkey roasting in the oven, and the sounds of popping popcorn or the sizzle of food on the grill. Food’s wonderful flavors encourage a healthy appetite and help stimulate digestion.
At about age 60 or so, smell and taste gradually start to diminish; although, these sensory changes may not be noticed until about a decade later. As with changes in sight and hearing, it doesn’t affect everyone the same way. As the senses of smell and taste get duller, food may lose some of its flavor, appeal and pleasure. Some older adults lose interest in eating which results in poor nutrition.
Flavor is affected by the senses of smell and taste, as well as touch (temperature and mouth feel). With aging, taste buds and smell receptors may not be quite as sensitive or numerous. The ability to sense sweet and salty tastes may decline sooner than bitter and sour tastes. That’s why many foods may seem bitter, and why some older people reach for the salt or sugar. Differences in saliva (composition and amount) may also affect flavor.
Age isn’t the only reason for changes in taste and smell — medications and chronic health problems may play a part as well. Some medicines leave a bitter flavor, which affects saliva production. Some medications can cause nausea, resulting in a loss of appetite. Medications can also suppress taste and smell. Health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, and liver disease may alter taste and smell too.
Here are some tips to help deal with this problem:
- Add color to meals to stimulate appetite with eye appeal.
- Use more herbs, spices and lemon juice to add flavor.
- Add crunchy textures to stimulate saliva production.
- Include foods of different temperatures at each meal.
- Chew slowly to stimulate saliva production.
- If you smoke, stop! Smoking diminishes taste.
- Avoid overexposure to strong or bitter flavors (i.e. coffee).
Last update: Wednesday, January 22, 2014