IT’S A unique approach to diet and health, one that is centred around taste, that Dr Preet Bano uses to reach out to a varied audience of an NGO, as part of a workshop she conducted for health awareness. The Chandigarh-born Bano, who now lives and works in Oslo, Norway, is a PhD in taste and was here for a family visit and also to share her research and expertise as part of lectures and workshops.
Taste and its relationship with our diet and health is an unploughed field, agrees Bano, who did her PhD in taste from University of Oslo. A dentist by profession, encouraged and supported by her supervisors, Bano says she began her project at the National Institute of Health (NIH), Washington DC, and then continued extensive research work in the Taste and Food Laboratory, Paris, and Smell and Taste Clinic, Dresden, Germany.
“It’s been a fascinating journey, one that has given so many insights into this aspect of our life. As part of my work, I studied how our taste genes decide our food preferences, with genetics being the first part of the research. The second was focused on the nerves on the tongue, the signals sent to the brain and what happens in the brain, how it processes this food, at various levels, psychological being one,” explains Bano.
A faculty member at University of Oslo, Bano has set up a department there, and is working with patients with mouth dryness, those who cannot perceive taste and have issues with taste. “For instance, sometimes we add much salt or sweet to our food, simply because we cannot perceive that taste. Also, many cannot taste umami, the pleasant savoury taste, and use more spices, salt and fat to their food, which creates a negative impact on health,” explains Bano, who is working with cancer patients who have been disease-free for five years now, to study if their taste is still distorted.
As part of the workshop, Bano emphasised the need to be aware of the signals from the brain, for taste is a lot about psychology and how we can train ourselves to like certain foods. She cites the example of patients with Parkinson’s, who lose their sense of smell and how they are successfully trained to regain it.
“We have to be conscious and aware of what we eat, making sure we eat at regular intervals, don’t snack, and not pressurise our bowels with over-eating. Portion-control is paramount. By being aware of taste qualities, we can improve our diet,” says Bano.
With the help of a taste map, she explained the sense of taste, its function, taste disorders, distorted taste, why some people have a metallic taste in their mouth.
“You have to be conscious of what you put inside our body, and listen to the body’s signals. We have to eat seasonal foods. Look back in time to see what you can eat, and train yourself to not add sugar, salt to your food, make a timetable and stick to it. We have changed our lifestyle, don’t do much physical work, but consume a rich diet. India will be the diabetes capital of the world, and we have our diets to blame. So we have to teach ourselves to eat right,” sums up Bano.