Read My Lips: Eat Your Cabbage

Maybe George Bush was just a supertaster. Armchair psychoanalysts made much of his avowed hatred of broccoli--was it a regression to childhood? A revolt against Bar's cooking?--but the former president's preference may actually be genetic. Scientists have found that about 25 percent of the female population (men have not yet been studied) exhibits a heightened sensitivity to bitter flavors, like those found in cabbage, brussels sprouts, grapefruit juice--and broccoli. A test to identify these so-called "supertasters" has been available for decades, but the inherited aversion to bitterness remained merely a curiosity. Then researchers discovered that many such tart fruits and vegetables contain antioxidant flavonoids, compounds thought to help prevent cancer.

Adam Drewnowski, Ph.D., director of the human nutrition program at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health, decided to study the relationship between bitterness-sensitivity and diet. Supertasters, he found, disliked more sharp and bitter foods than regular tasters. People who avoid eating such foods, he notes, won't benefit from flavonoids' protective effect--and popping vitamins won't help, since many antioxidants aren't available in supplement form.

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So what's a supertaster to do? Adding salt, sugar, or fat to bitter veggies can mask their flavor, but don't do much for a healthful diet. And while long cooking can take the edge off a vegetable's sharp taste, it can also leach out its nutrients. Supertasters can take comfort, however, in the changes in taste preferences that customarily come with age. "Younger people are more driven by taste, and less by health concerns," Drewnowski says. "By the time you get to 70-year-old women, they all swear they love broccoli."

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