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Upcoming conference at UK to explore the science of flavor in our brains

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Eat Well Dietitians

The International Society of Neurogastronomy (ISN) will bring their annual symposium back to the University of Kentucky campus on May 18th at the UK Gatton Student Center. Neurogastronomy is a relatively new field that explores how flavor sensations are created in the brain, what the brain does with flavor information, and the behavioral and physiological consequences that result. Dr. Greg talks with ISN president Tim McClintock about this year's symposium. McClintock is a professor of physiology at UK.

More info on the symposium courtesy of UK Now:

Sponsored by the National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, UK plays a big role within ISN with five UK representatives serving as officers for the group. Professor of Physiology Timothy McClintock, Ph.D., is the current president; neuropsychologist Dan Han, Psy.D., is the past president; UK’s recently retired chef-in-residence Bob Perry serves as program chair; clinical administrator Kelsey Rahenkamp is ISN’s secretary; and neurologist Siddharth Kapoor, M.D., serves as treasurer for the group.

The concept of neurogastronomy casts a wide net over all disciplines that are relevant to what we eat, why we like what we eat, and how we eat. The mission of ISN is to advance neurogastronomy as a craft, science and health profession, to enhance quality of human life, and to generate and disseminate knowledge of brain-behavior relationships in the context of gastronomy.

“The breadth of expertise we bring in highlights the key roles of smell and taste in everyday life. The two sides of this coin are the advances made in understanding smell and taste, the two senses our brains use to synthesize flavor sensations, versus the problems that arise when smell and taste deficits occur,” said McClintock, a professor in the UK College of Medicine. “These deficits occur more often than you probably realize. Nearly 25% of adults have reduced ability to smell, taste, or both.”

Flavor is a major unifying theme for ISN – what it is and how to use it to promote health. Flavor is a natural intersection where taste and smell science overlaps with clinical problems related to food and nutrition, with agriculture, and with chefs and the food preparation industry. Through presentations the group aims to promote a broad understanding of how taste and smell affect food choices and consumption. They also work to develop and promote evidence-based strategies for all areas of health related to flavor.

McClintock says there are several highlights to look forward to at this year’s symposium which includes a wide range of target audiences:

  1. Young athletes whose nutrition and caloric intake needs vary by sport and age. Presentations will be given by celebrity chef Fred Morin and UK Athletics dietitian Monica Fowler. 
  2. People living with hypertension who need low-salt diets that do not sacrifice flavor appeal. Presentations will be given by Valerie Duffy and Ginnefer Cox. 
  3. People with deficits in their sense of smell. These most often arise due to drug side effects (e.g., chemotherapy), trauma (e.g,, head injury), or infection (e.g., COVID-19) and are particularly challenging. Robert Pellegrino will describe recent progress detailed in his book, scheduled for publication later this year.

In addition to these three timely and applicable topics, McClintock says the rest of the agenda is jam-packed.
“We are very fortunate to have scientist and author Rachel Herz, whose books and TED talks provide the ‘big picture’ view of neurogastronomy in a way all can understand. We also have Katie Barratt, a sommelier and wine connoisseur from South Africa, joining us to explain how to pair wine with food,” said McClintock. “To provide a concrete example of using diet to treat a serious disease, chef Trevor Morones will recount how full ketogenic diet therapy allowed him to overcome childhood epilepsy.”

Since this is not your ordinary scientific conference, the event doesn’t only involve standard platform presentations but incorporates many interactive aspects as well. This includes the always popular Neurogastronomy Dinner Workshop. The tradition of this event is to feature the culinary skills of local chefs in a setting where participants can experience flavor while learning about its nature and origins.

If you are fortunate enough to score a ticket to the year’s neurogastronomy dinner, you’ll get both fine dining and a chance to hear from John McGann who exploded the myth that humans have an inferior sense of smell.

Registration is currently open for this year’s event and the full agenda is availableon the event website.