Pine mouth for some people, pine nuts are a bitter pill

I’ve been reading more and more reports recently of a little-known phenomenon –– something called ‘pine mouth.’ People who suffer from it find that within a day or two after eating pine nuts – popular additions to pasta dishes, salads and cookies – they develop a bitter, metallic taste in the mouth.

Not much is known about pine mouth – what might be the cause, exactly how the nuts are affecting the taste buds, whether a particular species of pine nut is to blame, or if the source of the pine nuts is the problem. People who suffer from pine mouth would sure like to know, since the effects can make everything taste terrible for as long as two weeks.

One possibility is that the fats in the pine nuts have gone rancid, creating new compounds that somehow interact with the taste buds – either by altering flavor directly, or by sending mixed up signals from the tongue to the brain, leading us to sense that we’re chewing on something akin to a bitter piece of tin foil.

The suspect nuts have been tested, but nothing unusual has been found – like a toxin, fungus, or pesticide. The other strange thing is that it’s not like an outbreak of food poisoning where pretty much everyone gets sick from the offending food – among a group of people dining on the same pesto dish, it could be that only one person comes down with a case of pine mouth.

This problem with pine nuts seems to be relatively new, so it may take some time before scientists figure out what the problem is. But we’ve known for a long time about other foods that can alter taste – artichokes, for example, can make certain foods taste sweeter, which is why wine enthusiasts shun them when they’re quaffing a nice red.

And miracle fruit (a tiny berry, actually) contains a compound called miraculin, which is released when the berry is chewed and tricks the sweet taste receptors on the tongue into being stimulated by acids rather than sugars. The effect lasts a couple of hours, but it can make cider vinegar taste like apple juice, and truly turn lemons into lemonade.

Nutritional value More nutrition per bite


Smart shoppers usually look for value – whether they’re buying a car or a computer, they want to get the best bang for their buck. The same rule should apply to food, too. When the currency is calories, it’s smart to spend them as wisely as you can.

Clearly stated, the concept of nutrient density is pretty simple. It refers to getting the most “nutritional value” for your “calorie intake.” Foods high in protein are going to give you an abundance of nutrients in exchange for relatively few calories.

A healthy diet does more than just keep calories in check. If body weight were the only thing that mattered, you could keep your weight steady on French fries and chocolate cake, as long as you didn’t eat more calories than you burned off. But, of course, we need a complex array of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients from plants to keep ourselves in peak condition.

Whether you’ve heard the term or not, if you try to eat reasonably well, you’re probably already eating a pretty nutrient-dense diet. Most people know what foods make up a healthy eating plan: fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, low fat dairy products. and whole grains – and these are some of the foods with high nutritional value.

Part of the high nutrient-to-calorie ratio in these foods is their low fat content, which means they pack a lot of calories per bite. And, because water has no calories, watery foods like fruits and vegetables have the fewest calories per bite – but they’re loaded with nutrition, making them some of the best foods you can eat.

A single orange supplies a whole day’s vitamin C and a host of other nutrients, too – in just 70 calories. If you tried to meet your vitamin C needs from French fries, you’d need to eat about 800 calories’ worth. That’s because fats seriously dilute the ratio of nutrients to calories. Sugars do, too. Fats and added sugars are the flip side of nutrient density. They pack an abundance of calories but not much of anything else. This is why we call them “calorie-dense.”

Have three ounces of grilled fish for dinner, and you’ll get about 25 grams of protein, along with minerals like iron, zinc, and magnesium, all for about 120 calories – a true calorie bargain. Sure, you can get 25 grams of protein from a burger, but it will also cost you an extra 400 calories or so.

Everyone should aim for a nutrient-dense diet, but it’s particularly important for those whose calorie requirements aren’t that high to start with. A middle-aged woman who only needs 1400 calories to maintain her weight will be hard-pressed to pack all her nutrient needs in a small calorie package if she doesn’t choose carefully; she simply can’t afford a calorie-dense meal.

Don’t lose the forest for the trees, though. Of course it’s wise to eat as many nutrient-dense foods as you can, but there’s nothing wrong with a high-calorie treat once in a while. Focus on the quality of your diet as a whole. As long as your overall diet has a high nutritional value, that’s still smart spending.

Focus on good nutrition while making use of pre-prepared foods and you’ll find that healthy eating is easy.

One of the biggest complaints people have about eating healthily is the perception that it requires more hours in the kitchen to prepare nutritious meals.  But there are so many convenience items available now that preparing healthy meals is a snap.

For protein, you can buy fish or poultry that’s already seasoned and ready for quick grilling or frozen pre-cooked shrimp that can be tossed with some pasta and veggies for a quick dish.  And don’t overlook canned tuna, salmon or chicken breast that can be added to salad greens, rice dishes or soups.

You can also boost the nutritional value of condensed soups by mixing them with nonfat milk or soy milk instead of water.  As the soup is heating, toss in some frozen mixed vegetables, or some loose pack spinach to add nutrition, flavor and bulk.  Frozen-loose pack vegetables allow you to use only what you need and are ready to eat in minutes.

Salad preparation can also be quick thanks to pre-washed salad greens, all sorts of pre-sliced and chopped veggies and baby carrots.  Add a splash of low-fat bottled dressing and some pre-cooked chicken or shrimp and you’ve got a quick and healthy meal.

Fresh, pre-washed and cut veggies are available in the produce section, and if your market has a salad bar you can often find them there, too.  Pop them in the steamer, toss with some pre-chopped garlic or onions when they’re crisp/tender, and you’ve got a gourmet dish in minutes.

This post is originally Written by Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD. Susan is a paid consultant for Herbalife and it is available here