How Fat Foods Seduce
Through Taste, Texture and Smell
NEW YORK - New research sheds light on why we tend to choose double-cheese pizza and fries over broccoli and bran cereal.
We choose fatty foods primarily because of their taste, texture and smell, explains chief researcher Dr. Susan S. Schiffman, of the department of psychiatry at Duke University Medical School in Durham, N.C.
Reporting in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science, Schiffman and colleagues discuss what is currently known about the sensations that occur when we put fatty foods into our mouths, also known as orosensory perceptions.
Consumption of excess fat is linked to a variety of medical conditions such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Thus, understanding what it is about fat that makes us eat and crave it may help find ways to reduce fat consumption and improve overall health, the research team notes.
"The orosensory properties responsible for fat perception are just beginning to be explored. Fat perception appears to involve taste, smell and texture cues," Schiffman and colleagues write.
After culling available studies on orosensory perception of fat, the investigators found that fats and fatty acids seem to activate taste cells in the tongue, throat and upper third of the esophagus, which, in turn, send pleasurable signals to the brain.
Fatty foods also have a wide range of textures, many of which people find enjoyable. For example, shakes are creamy and bacon is crispy.
And the team report that the pleasing aromas of high-fat meals send messages to the brain that help enhance satiety.
Studies suggest advancing age is accompanied by a loss in sensory perception of foods, thus elderly people may eat higher levels of fat to compensate for these losses.
Research on the orosensory perceptions of fat will also help find fat substitutes that reduce the fat content in food while preserving its taste and texture.
Examples of such substitutes include carbohydrate-based fat replacers, such as modified food starches, which are thickening agents that provide texture, and protein-based fat replacers, such as egg-whites, which create a creaminess sensation on the tongue.
Fat-based fat replacers have the same taste and texture of fat, but are lower in calories. An example is Olestra, which is not absorbed by the body and is therefore calorie-free.
"A wide variety of fat replacements that mimic the texture and taste of fat have recently been introduced into the food supply. Further research is required, however, to determine whether consumption of low-fat foods with sensory properties similar to those of high-fat foods reduces or delays chronic disease," researchers report.