Monthly Archives: March 2007

The Science of Miracle Berries and Your Taste

TasteBuds:  The Science of Miracle Berries and Your Taste

Competency #  14 Superfoods

Reference: Wall Street Journal – Front Page, Friday March 30, 2007

Miracle Fruit is otherwise called Synsepalum dulcificum.  It comes from West Africa and tastes a little odd.  It’s sort of mushy and with a big pit.  And it rots so fast that you can hardly ship it.  It would be best to Fedex overnight, or grow your own.  The Four Seasons Hotel in Palm Beach does.  It has two bushes growing nicely.  But that’s not what’s fun about it.  The berry has some miracle like quality compounds in it.  Those compounds bind to your sour and bitter receptors on your tongue for about two hours.  Things that used to taste terribly sour suddenly are sweet.  Presto, chango, you have a little gustatory miracle.  Rhubarb is like eating a sugar stick.  Limes and lemons are deliciously succulent.  Sweet strawberries are almost too sweet.  People have even reported a bologna sandwich with mustard tasted sweet.  Some bitter coffees change into sweet drinks.  All of this without a drop of sugar.

The science of taste is taking off.   Beverly Tepper, from Rutgers, has been chasing “super tasters”.  If you are a “super-taster”, you will taste a compound called 6n-propylthiouracil (PROP) as intensely bitter.  If you aren’t, you can’t taste it at all.  Nothing.  This starts to explain why some people LOVE Brussels sprouts.  And some hate them.  The same is true for broccoli and etc.  About 25% of Caucasian Americans are “super-tasters”, 50% are average, and 25% are non-tasters.  The non-tasters like high fat food better.  Supertasters perceive sweetness more, they like texture more, and they like chili peppers more than non-tasters.  You can’t tell that about yourself, because you can’t switch your taste buds.  But here is the interesting part.  If you take women in their forties and look at their taste “preferences”, you find that super-tasters are 20% skinnier than non-tasters.  They just eat less, naturally.  Their average BMI is 23.5.  Average tasters have a BMI of 26.6.  Non-tasters have a BMI of 30.  A Body Mass Index of 30 is obese.

There are exceptions, and lots of them, so these are just the beginning of trends.  Your adventuresome eating index, to quote Dr. Tepper, counts.  Is your primary sense gustatory or are you more restrained.  Do you have self-control?  (Tamed your inner elephant?)

WWW: What Will Work for Me?  This is early science.  There are no direct applications now.  But it’s insight.  I must be a non-taster because I love Brussels sprouts.  But non-tasters smoke more, and I don’t.  Though I tried my best to start in high school.  I can’t wait to try a super berry though.  It’s spring and my rhubarb is coming up, and it’s always way to sour to eat very much of it, so it just sits there.  I’m going to watch this emerging science of taste.  Hope may be around the corner for my 10 pm ice cream urges.

Taming Your Elephant: Learning Control of Your Inner Beast

Taming Your Elephant: Learning Control of Your Inner Beast

Competency # All 25 Competencies in Personal Nutrition and Wellness

Reference:  The How of Happiness by Sonja Luybomirsky

It’s the beast that’s in control.  This is THE BEST book on happiness research I’ve ever read.  It takes the ideas of our great religious traditions and compares them to the best of current research in psychology.  Our religions and great leaders come out pretty well.

Here’s what I learned that’s helping me a lot.  Consider that we, as a human species, have been evolving for millions of years.  However you believe we were created, the human brain is relatively recent.  Our bodies, though, have 300 million years of evolution and practice to become perfect at blood pressure, temperature, motor motion, sex, appetite, sleep and all the rest of that that composes our tiny little brain stem.  So, our bodies are pretty good at that stuff.  It’s on autopilot.

Now, along comes our brains and our ability to plan, think, worship, feel awe and reverence, know what we should do and shouldn’t do.  That’s all pretty recent.  So, to make an analogy, think of yourself as being a mahout, an elephant trainer sitting on an elephant.  If you are really good and patient, you can train your elephant to do what you want it to do.  But it takes training and practice.  And you need to know where you are going, what you want to achieve, and have goals, standards, and definitions of excellence.  You need to tame your elephant.  And your elephant is not really all that interested in being tamed.  It will comply only if you lead it gently, carefully, lovingly and patiently.  If you try and starve your elephant, and it sees a jar of peanut butter, guess who wins?

The goal here is practice, training, patience, values.  Those are spiritual values too.  I want to be patient person.  I want to be honest.  I want to be humble, grateful and reverent.  I can’t be any of those if those things conflict with an untrained elephant.  Nor can I lose weight, get in shape or be in optimal health.

Read this book.  It’s one of the best I’ve read on happiness.  It sets the stage for learning the values of sacredness I hold most dear.  I want do those values.  My flesh tempts me to eat the peanut butter.  As we understand our frailties, we can improve.

What Will Work For Me.  It’s Easter/Passover.  Let’s practice, reverence and awe and patience this week of scared traditions.  Train your elephant.  Take a walk and enjoy the daffodils.  Celebrate the sunrise.


Meditation: Pushups for Your Brain – The Evidence

Meditation:  Pushups for Your Brain – The Evidence

Competency # 21 Meditate

Reference: “How to Get Smarter One Breath at a Time” by L. T. Cullen; Time Magazine Jan. 10, 2006

Deeply imbedded in all of our sacred traditions is the concept of meditation.  In the modern world we have secularized it and called it the “relaxation response”.  My eye can’t help but catch the multiple references in the last few months as to what meditation does for our brains.  It’s all good!  My own personal involvement is that I intentionally spend 4-5 sessions a week of quiet meditation.  I probably first related to it’s power to refresh in my early high school years when I dozed, haft listening, through many long chapel services.  In medical school, I was formally trained in TM, or transcendental meditation, and did that for about 10 years.  But my tradition is Christian, and I’ve evolved into a state that I think of as meditative prayer, or spiritual guided imagery.  But, my tension headaches went away with TM, and I haven’t had a headache in 30 years because of that.  And I’ve gotten rid of horrible back spasms and back pain with 20 minutes of quite “relaxation”.  I’m intrigued.  How on earth does that work?

So here’s the recent evidence.   Last year, Time Magazine had a great article that started me off.  We always thought the brain was fixed, and rigid.  You get what you were born with.  Not so, just plain not so.  Our brain grows and responds to what we expose it to.  Put someone under a functional MRI scanner, and you can watch how the brain works in response to many behaviors.  Repeat those behaviors many times, and your brain develops and grows in those areas.  For example, practice the piano, and your brain grows in those areas that control finger motions. Do Sudoku puzzles and the same thing happens.  Now, here is the interesting part.

The Dalai Lama has been challenging western neurology for years asking why you can’t consider the brain as something to be developed.  He offered monks with advanced practice in meditation to be studied under a function MRI scanner.  As they meditated thinking about compassion, their brains lit up in ways that no one else’s does.  And in those areas, their brains are larger.  Lots of meditations, (10,000 hours) and your brain looks different.  More developed and bigger!

The evidence goes on and on.  We have proof that there is a persistent effect on your blood pressure after you stop meditating.  If you practice observing your own inner thoughts and feelings, you can show that observing and commenting to yourself on your own behavior can change your behavior, as well as improve pathological thinking as well as drugs do.  Best done with a psychologist, this works on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

So, here is a very brief primer on how to elicit your own relaxation response.  Ready?  Find a quiet room with no interruptions, noise or pets.  Sit comfortably.  Close your eyes.  Take a deep breath and allow yourself to relax all your muscles, head to toe.  Every one.  Keep letting them let go of tension. Then, start repeating a phrase you want to engage in.  “Compassion”.  “Om”, “God is One God”, “Forgiveness”, “Hail Mary”.  Your choice.  Repeat. Quieter, quieter, quieter.  Let the word drift away, smaller, smaller, further away.  Your brain will come up with thoughts that intrude.  With no guilt, no shame, no fault, when you become aware you have drifted away, return to your phrase.  Quieter, quieter, softer, gentler.  20 minutes.  You can look at your watch.  Do it twice a day for a month, your blood pressure will be lower, you will feel more creative.  Your brain will be different.  Your muscle contraction headaches will improve.  Your back pain…

What Will Work for Me?  That’s all I do.  I think it’s the source of much of my creativity.  It reduces my stress enormously. The evidence is in.  I live in a world where the shape of my brain is being changed by advertising, commercial temptations, career pressures all the time.  I’m trying to change it back.  I believe we have a tool at hand that works.  Our faith traditions have recognized it and plugged into it for centuries.  Let’s celebrate those.  Can you sit with a labyrinth on your lap and do the same?