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‘Shock’ Chopsticks May Help Reduce Daily Salt Intake

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The chopstick has a copper electrode on the hand side and a titanium electrode on the mouth side, and each electrode is independently connected to a power output device. Credit: Kirin Holdings Co., Ltd.

If the popularity of fad diets is any indication, people will do everything they can to either eat healthier or lose weight. In a new study, Japanese researchers have devised a “shocking” technique that could help people cut back on salt in their daily diets.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 2.5 million global deaths per year could be prevented if individuals reduce their salt consumption to the recommended daily intake of less than five grams.

Yoshinobu Kaji and colleagues at Meiji University developed a chopstick-like device that uses a weak electrical charge to stimulate how the tongue perceives salt.

“Many people consume about twice the WHO-recommended salt intake,” said Kaji, lead author of the study, published in Limits in Virtual Reality† “This standard cannot be met with a little effort in salt reduction, and a drastic solution is essential.”

The chopstick has a copper electrode on the hand side and a titanium electrode on the mouth side, and each electrode is independently connected to a power output device. When food is ingested, a circuit is formed in the human body and electrical stimulation can be applied to the tongue.

Kaji and his team gently zapped their own taste buds before testing the effects of the electrified chopsticks in two separate experiments involving 36 people who were previously or currently on a low-sodium diet.

The participants experienced the waveform of electrical stimulation at 0.5 mA before performing the task. If they did not experience any serious discomfort, the experiment continued. However, if the electrical stimulation caused severe discomfort, the experiment was performed using the 0.3 mA waveform.

The first experiment examined the salt-increasing effect of electric flavor using saltwater gel samples with the same saltiness as low-sodium and regular foods. The participants took a sample of 0.80% salt water gel without stimulation, a sample of 0.56% salt water gel without stimulation, and a sample of 0.56% salt water gel with electrical stimulation.

The study results showed that electrical stimulation improved the saltiness of the low-sodium sample, making it comparable to the control sample, even though it was 40% saltier.

The second experiment was designed to evaluate the salt-increasing effect and change in taste that can occur with electrical taste sensation when eating or drinking low-sodium foods. The participants were asked to dip the tip of the chopstick into a cup of low-sodium miso soup and sip it β€” both with and without electrical stimulation.

A similar “salt enhancement” result observed with the saltwater gel samples was also recorded for the miso soup samples. In addition, many participants indicated that the soup had a better mouthfeel and better taste.

“The results indicate that electrical stimulation may also have affected umami taste, and that saltiness may have improved, resulting in a better balance of taste,” the researchers explain in the study. Umami is a fifth sensory taste that is often described as savory.

However, there were negative comments about the taste, including bitterness, minerality and irritation. The scientists believe that these reactions are caused by the high intensity of electrical stimulation.

Importantly, in both experiments, more than 80% of the participants said they could tolerate the electrical stimulation on a daily basis. But about 10-20% of the participants reported experiencing discomfort that was “unbearable in everyday life,” suggesting significant individual differences in how people experience electrical stimulation.

The researchers say future research will need to look for “stimulation waveforms, design devices and calibrate currents for each individual to suppress discomfort while preserving the taste-enhancing effect of the electric flavor.”

While Kaji’s long-term goal is to develop a commercially available chopstick-style device for everyday use by people on a low-sodium diet or trying to reduce their salt intake, the Meiji University team is exploring other uses for their diet. innovation, such as encouraging trials as part of a virtual reality experience

β€œIn the future, for example, it may be possible to virtually reproduce the taste of food and drinks, or to realize taste expressions that are difficult to achieve with conventional dining experiences,” concludes Kaji.

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