Sunday, 1 January 2017

Can we blame delicious food for our holiday weight gain?

Most of us have heard the saying that "if it tastes good, it must be bad for you." Although commonly held, this old adage may not contain much truth after all.

A team of researchers led by Dr. Michael Tordoff, a physiological psychologist at Monell Chemical Senses Center in Pennsylvania, set out to test this belief in more detail. "Most people think that good-tasting food causes obesity," he explains.

Tordoff was unconvinced, and he therefore designed a range of experiments to see whether the theory held any water. His findings were recently published in the journal Physiology & Behavior.

Investigating flavor and weight gain
It has been established that if you feed a mouse cookies, chips, and cream, they will become obese. But is it the flavor of the foods that cause overeating? Or, could it be the nutrient density that promotes the gorging? After all, animals have evolved to seek out fatty and sugary foods as a matter of survival.

Previous studies that have drawn conclusions about good taste (in this context, meaning flavor and texture) and its effect on weight gain have been flawed. For instance, many did not take into account the impact of variety on feeding behavior; having a spread of different foods to choose from can cause one to over-indulge. A buffet is a prime example of this.

According to the authors of the recent research, only three studies to date have looked specifically at the influence of flavor on weight gain. None of these studies were conclusive, however. The reasons for this include sample size and, once again, the effects of variety.

The first phase of Tordoff's study involved establishing whether mice would prefer food with added oily or sweet ingredients that were non-nutritive. The mice were served two pots of chow - one standard, and one with either a sucralose sweetener or mineral oil (both of which are calorie free).

As expected, the mice preferred the mineral oil chow and sucralose chow. They virtually ignored the plainer fare. In fact, the mice thought so little of the standard chow that, according to the study authors, they "often defecated in the cup containing the plain diet."