Our Preference for Tasty Foods Does Not Necessarily Lead to Obesity

Good taste can stimulate food intake acutely, and guide selection toward nutrient-dense foods that cause weight gain, but it does not determine how much is eaten chronically.

Jan. 26, 2017
By Stav Dimitropoulos

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More or less, we are all aware that over­con­sump­tion of foods high in fat and sugar brings on obe­sity. As Michael Tordoff, a phys­i­o­log­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist at Monell Chemical Senses Center, explained to Olive Oil Times, The cause of obe­sity is the tri­fecta com­bi­na­tion of high car­bo­hy­drates, par­tic­u­larly sug­ars, high fat, and high energy den­sity. It takes all three — carbs, fat, and calo­ries.”

I think it is pos­si­ble to improve the taste of a food using nat­ural fla­vors fairly eas­ily.- Michael Tordoff, Monell Chemical Senses Center

It is not a coin­ci­dence that the foods we tend to like most are the ones that cause weight gain, as we learn to like the taste of these foods because they pro­vide energy,” Tordoff added.

Would that mean that humans are con­demned to a life of dull fla­vors and gas­tro­nom­i­cal mis­ery for the sake of weight con­trol? Not so fast, accord­ing to the same sci­en­tist, who was the senior author of a just-pub­lished Monell Chemical Senses Center study.

The study, the find­ings of which were pub­lished in the jour­nal Physiology & Behavior, took a dif­fer­ent approach from pre­vi­ous ones of its kind, sep­a­rat­ing the pos­i­tive sen­sory qual­i­ties of the deli­cious foods from their high sugar and fat con­tent.

In a series of exper­i­ments using mouse mod­els, the researchers first made sure that mice show a strong pref­er­ence for food with added con­cen­tra­tions of sucralose and min­eral oil in their chow.


To con­firm this, they gave mice two cups of food. The first group of mice could choose between a cup of plain rodent chow and a cup of chow mixed with the noncaloric sweet­ener sucralose. The sec­ond group had a choice between a cup of plain rodent chow and a cup of chow mixed with noncaloric min­eral oil.

Invariably, mice ignored the plain chow and con­sumed almost all of the sweet­ened or oily chow, hence the sci­en­tists drew the con­clu­sion that sweet and oily (but non-caloric in this spe­cific case tastes) were sim­ply more allur­ing.

Michael Tordoff

Then, the team pro­ceeded to Experiment 1. In this stage, they com­pared groups of 16 new mice fed plain chow with no addi­tives to groups fed chow with added sucralose, min­eral oil, sucralose and min­eral oil, or sucralose on odd days and min­eral oil on even days. It was shown that over the course of the six-week test, the body weights and body com­po­si­tions of the five groups did not actu­ally dif­fer.

In Experiment 2, the Monell team com­pared groups of 18 mice fed plain chow or a plain high-fat diet to groups of mice fed these diets with the addi­tion of sucralose. The test lasted nine weeks this time. Unavoidably, the group fed a high-fat diet did gain weight, but the body weights of mice fed the sucralose-sweet­ened diets did not dif­fer from those fed plain chow, while extra tests con­ducted upon com­ple­tion of each exper­i­ment showed that mice kept opt­ing for the chow with added sucralose and/or min­eral oil.

The study estab­lished that, even though the pleas­ant taste of a food affects whether we choose to eat it or not, and that taste can gen­er­ally guide selec­tion toward nutri­ent-dense foods that bring on obe­sity, it does not affect the amount of food we con­sume in the long run, sug­gest­ing that by means of food manip­u­la­tion, we can have foods that are both healthy and tasty.

I think it is pos­si­ble to improve the taste of a food using nat­ural fla­vors fairly eas­ily, and there may still be plants out there that taste yummy that haven’t made it to Western cul­ture yet, and which might qual­ify as not syn­thetic,” said Tordoff. But, clearly, adding non-nutri­tive sweet­en­ers and oils is likely to remain among the most pow­er­ful ways of manip­u­lat­ing a food’s taste.”


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