Dr. Charles Zuker: The Biology of Taste Perception & Sugar Craving


Huberman Lab

My guest this episode is Charles Zuker, Ph.D., Professor of Biochemistry, Molecular Biophysics and Neuroscience at Columbia University and an Investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Dr. Zuker is the world’s leading expert in the biology of taste, thirst and craving. His laboratory explores the mechanisms of taste perception, focusing on how our conscious and unconscious processing of specific foods and nutrients guide our actions and behaviors. We discuss the neural circuits of taste, the “gut-brain axis,” the basis of food cravings and the key difference between wanting (craving) and liking (perceiving) sugar. We also explore how taste perception relates to specific food satiety, thirst, to our emotions, and expectation. We also consider how sugar containing and highly-processed foods can hijack the natural balance of the taste and digestive systems. Dr. Zuker provides a true masterclass in the biology of taste and perception that ought to be of interest to anyone curious about how the brain works, our motivated behaviors and the neural, chemical perceptual aspects of the mind.

For the full show notes, visit hubermanlab.com.

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(00:00:00) Dr. Charles Zuker & Taste Perception

(00:03:22) Sponsors: AG1, LMNT

(00:08:35) Sensory Detection vs. Sensory Perception

(00:11:48) Individual Variations within Perception, Color

(00:16:20) Perceptions & Behaviors

(00:20:19) The 5 Taste Modalities

(00:26:18) Aversive Taste, Bitter Taste

(00:28:00) Survival-Based & Evolutionary Reasons for Taste Modalities, Taste vs. Flavor

(00:30:14) Additional Taste Modalities: Fat & Metallic Perception

(00:34:02) Tongue “Taste Map,” Taste Buds & Taste Receptors

(00:39:34) Burning Your Tongue & Perception

(00:42:54) The “Meaning” of Taste Stimuli, Sweet vs. Bitter, Valence

(00:51:55) Positive vs. Negative Neuronal Activation & Behavior

(00:56:16) Acquired Tastes, Conditioned Taste Aversion

(01:01:44) Olfaction (Smell) vs. Taste, Changing Tastes over One’s Lifetime

(01:09:14) Integration of Odor & Taste, Influence on Behavior & Emotion

(01:17:26) Sensitization to Taste, Internal State Modulation, Salt

(01:24:05) Taste & Saliva: The Absence of Taste

(01:28:10) Sugar & Reward Pleasure Centers; Gut-Brain Axis, Anticipatory Response

(01:36:23) Vagus Nerve

(01:43:09) Insatiable Sugar Appetite, Liking vs. Wanting, Gut-Brain Axis

(01:52:03) Tool: Sugar vs. Artificial Sweeteners, Curbing Appetite

(01:54:06) Cravings & Gut-Brain Axis

(01:57:30) Nutrition, Gut-Brain Axis & Changes in Behavior

(02:01:53) Fast vs. Slow Signaling & Reinforcement, Highly Processed Foods

(02:10:38) Favorite Foods: Enjoyment, Sensation & Context

(02:15:58) Zero-Cost Support, YouTube Feedback, Spotify & Apple Reviews, Sponsors, Momentous Supplements, Instagram, Twitter, Neural Network Newsletter

Title Card Photo Credit: Mike Blabac


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