Could Enhancing Food Flavors Promote Weight Loss?
< June 18, 2008 > -- A new study suggests that boosting the flavor of your food with calorie-free seasonings and sweeteners may help you feel fuller faster and decrease the amount you eat.
The results were presented this week at The Endocrine Society's 90th Annual Meeting in San Francisco.
Dr. Alan Hirsch, founder and neurologic director of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago headed the study.
Stimulating the Sense of Taste
The study of "tastants" - substances that can stimulate the sense of taste - included 2,436 overweight or obese people who were asked to sprinkle a variety of savory or sweet crystals on their food before eating their meals.
They used the salt-free savory crystals on salty foods and used the sugar-free sweet crystals on sweet or neutral-tasting foods. The participants did not know what the flavors of the crystals were, other than salty or sweet.
The hidden flavors of the savory tastants were cheddar cheese, onion, horseradish, ranch dressing, taco, and parmesan. The flavors of the sweet tastants were cocoa, spearmint, banana, strawberry, raspberry, and malt.
A control group of 100 people did not use tastants. Both groups continued their normal diet and exercise habits during the study.
At the start of the study, the treatment group had an average weight of 208 pounds and an average BMI of 34, which is considered obese. After 6 months of using the crystals, the 1,436 subjects who completed the study lost an average of 30.5 pounds, compared with just 2 pounds for the untreated controls.
Their BMI dropped by an average of 5, moving them from obesity to the overweight range. Controls had an average BMI decrease of 0.3.
How It May Work
Dr. Hirsch theorizes that subjects lost more weight than controls because the tastants made them feel full faster and therefore they ate less. However, he did not track the amount of food the subjects ate.
Another possibility, he says, is that the crystals improved the taste of bland but healthy foods, such as tofu and some vegetables, causing a change toward healthier eating habits.
Dr. Hirsch believes this approach works because, unlike most diets, it is not based on food restriction. Food restriction may lead to feelings of deprivation, which can increase cravings and food intake.
Subjects lost an average of nearly 15 percent of their body weight, results showed. It is not clear whether the apparent weight loss benefits of the tastants would extend past 6 months or to people who weigh less than the obese subjects in this study.
"It could be that the percent of weight reduction would be lower in people who are less obese," Dr. Hirsch says. "In theory, tastants won't work for people who eat even when they're full and for people who have lost their sense of smell."
Dr. Hirsch says the tastants worked so well that they contributed to the dropout rate. Some of the subjects stopped the study before 6 months because they already had reached their ideal body weight - an unexpected result, he says.
Same Techniques Can Be Utilized Now
Despite the tastant crystals not yet being commercially available, Dr. Hirsch says that people can use techniques to enhance their senses of smell and taste and to lose weight now.
"Sniff your food before you eat it. Chew it a lot. Choose low-calorie foods and season them," he suggests.
Always consult your physician for more information.
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Facts About Obesity
Overweight and obesity together represent the second leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Obesity is a serious, chronic disease that can inflict substantial harm to a person’s health.
Overweight and obesity are not the same; rather, they are different points on a continuum of weight ranging from being underweight to being morbidly obese. The percentage of people who fit into these two categories, overweight and obese, is determined by Body Mass Index (BMI).
The US Surgeon General has declared that the problems of overweight and obesity have reached epidemic proportions in this country. Over 9 million children between the ages of six and 19 are overweight.
Public health officials say physical inactivity and poor diet are catching up to tobacco as a significant threat to health. Currently, about 28 percent of women and 39 percent of men are considered seriously overweight.
Obesity is a chronic disease affecting increasing numbers of children and adolescents as well as adults. Obesity rates among children in the US have doubled since 1980 and have tripled for adolescents. More than 15 percent of children aged six to 19 are considered overweight compared to over 60 percent of adults who are considered overweight or obese.
Earlier onset of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity-related depression in children and adolescents is being seen by healthcare professionals.
The longer a person is obese, the more significant obesity-related risk factors become. Given the chronic diseases and conditions associated with obesity and the fact that obesity is difficult to treat, prevention is extremely important.
A primary reason that prevention of obesity is so vital in children is because the likelihood of childhood obesity persisting into adulthood is thought to increase as the child ages.
In many ways, obesity is a puzzling disease. How the body regulates weight and body fat is not well understood. On one hand, the cause appears to be simple in that if a person consumes more calories than he or she expends as energy, then he or she will gain weight.
However, the risk factors that determine obesity can be a complex combination of genetics, socioeconomic factors, metabolic factors, and lifestyle choices, as well as other factors. Some endocrine disorders, diseases, and medications may also exert a powerful influence on an individual's weight.
Always consult your physician for more information.
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