Your Small Intestine Has Taste Buds!

Dr Mary Vernon

Dr Mary Vernon in the Q&A session at the 4th Annual Low-Carb Cruise (I hope to get a better photo of her this year)

One of the high points each night of last year’s (4th Annual) Low-Carb Cruise was that we got to sit with a different celebrity guest at dinner each evening. On the second night, our table included Dr. Mary Vernon, one of the featured speakers at the first seminar on the cruise.

We were concerned about her because she wasn’t with the group the first day, but she boarded at the first stop, in Key West. She had been delayed by severe weather in the Dallas area, and missed the Ft. Lauderdale departure. Being a very spunky and resourceful lady, she made arrangements to meet the ship at Key West the next day. I’m very glad she made it. She is a very charming (and did I mention spunky and resourceful?) dinner companion.

I ought to mention at this point that all of the speakers at the Low-Carb cruise paid their own way. In addition to paying her own way, Dr. Vernon had the expense of a rental car that she drove from Ft. Lauderdale to Key West, plus the $300 “Jones Act Penalty” required if you get on and off a cruise ship at different US ports. If I recall correctly, she didn’t even get to sleep in the 36 hours prior to joining us for dinner, and she was still remarkably energetic.

Since my wife and I managed to get the seats right next to her, I (naturally enough) managed to mostly monopolize the conversation up until my wife poked me in the ribs and hissed that I needed to let somebody else talk to the good doctor.

One of the things I asked her was for her opinion of artificial sweeteners. The main reason that I asked was that I had noticed that artificial sweeteners tend to increase my overall appetite. She responded that artificial sweeteners were not really desirable, and that a person on a low-carb diet typically does better without trying to fool the taste buds. That much I already expected to hear, but then she added that it had been observed that injecting glucose directly into the bloodstream caused an insulin response that differed dramatically (surprisingly longer lag time) from ingesting the same amount of glucose orally. The researchers who discovered this tracked down the difference to the presence of taste receptors in the small intestine — taste buds, very much like the ones on your tongue. Obviously, you don’t get the same sensations in your small intestine as you get from your tongue, but something that tastes sweet in your mouth is also likely to stimulate the “taste buds” in your small intestine, which then sends a signal to your adrenals to start pumping out more insulin. And excess insulin depresses your blood sugar, which tends to make you hungry.

The next day, she elaborated on that same theme during her presentation to the group. She made an excellent case for reducing or eliminating artificial sweeteners.

In her presentation, she gave a anecdotal observation that I found both amusing and enlightening. She talked about her practice in the Midwest, and how she was educating the farmers and ranchers about low-carb. She asks things like “Why do you feed your cattle grain?” and they would naturally respond that it was to get them to gain weight quickly to get ready for market. Then they would pause, and ask, “Does that mean I shouldn’t be eating [biscuits/bread/cornflakes/etc] any more?” Dr. Vernon would respond, “Depends on whether you are getting yourself ready for market.”

At that point, Dr. Vernon says that the farmers and ranchers “get it.”

Dr. Mary Vernon is a Past President of the American Society of Bariatric Medicine. She is Board Certified in Bariatric Medicine, Family Medicine, and Hospice and Palliative Care. She is also a Certified Medical Director, Fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians, and Fellow of the American Society of Bariatricians. Dr. Vernon is an international expert on the use of ketogenic diets. She is the co-author (along with Dr. Atkins and Jackie Eberstein, who worked as a nurse for Dr Atkins for 30 years) of Atkins Diabetes Revolution (Kindle edition), also available in hardcover. Her website is

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