Fatties have more flavor!

Okay so that’s a bit of a stretch on what BoingBoing.net was pointing at here but I think it was still really interesting: Fat is a Flavor.  Really and truly. (Or, well, research is leaning that way.  For the scientific community as portrayed by the media those two are synonymous, right?)  You know how the tongue was recently discovered to have the ability to taste “Umami”? Well now researchers have found that us crazy human beings are also able to distinguish a 6th taste: the taste of fat! (I DO has a flavor! And I can call it my “6th sense”, right?)

From the BoingBoing post:

Researchers at Australia’s Deakin University have published a paper in the British Journal of Nutrition showing evidence that human beings can taste fat — that is, they can distinguish between two flavourless solutions in which one has more fat than the other. (See what I did there?  With that offset Quote?  And a link to the source?….)

Granted the study sample was only of 30 people* so I’m going to take the results with a “grain of salt” (Hah!)  But still you just KNOW this is going to be linked to obesity research somehow, right?  Oh there it is, Thanks AFP:

“We found that the people who were sensitive to fat, who could taste very low concentrations, actually consumed less fat than the people who were insensitive,” Keast told AFP.

“We also found that they had lower BMIs (Body Mass Indexes).”

We all like eating fatty foods. What we speculate is (that) the mechanism is to do with stopping eating. Your body is able to tell you you’ve had enough and stop,” he explained.

“And if you are insensitive to it, you’re not getting that feedback.”

With fats easily accessible and commonly consumed, it was possible that people may become desensitised to the taste of fat, leaving some more prone to overindulging in calorie-rich foods, he added.

(All links in the above quotation are my own additions)

From the abstract of the actual study, available online, I pulled the following regarding the researcher’s methodology and findings:

Habitual energy and macronutrient intakes were quantified from 2 d diet records, and BMI was calculated from height and weight.

These data suggest that oral fatty acid hypersensitivity is associated with lower energy and fat intakes and BMI, and it may serve as a factor that influences fat consumption in human subjects.

So using a 2 day “diet record” and the fabulous BMI, researchers pinned this handful of  study subjects into categories of “energy and fat intakes and BMI”.  Based on a SELF-REPORTED list of what they ate and how much they exercised in the last TWO DAYS and the flawed BMI, researchers thought themselves fully capable of categorizing these participants. And those results mean: fatties might not be able to taste as well and so get fatter because they eat more flavorless crap in…some sort of vain attempt to taste things better via quantity instead of quality?

So YET AGAIN it all boils down to “Hey, there MIGHT be a LINK to the ability to taste fat and BEING fat.  And that link is that the fatties can’t taste it as much and so they just OBVIOUSLY don’t know when to STOP EATING and thus: get fat because they eat so damn much.  So if we can get those fatties to actually stop scarfing stuff and actually TASTE IT then they won’t eat so much! Because the simple truth is that all fatties overeat. Ta-dah!  Fat Crisis Solved. Now the nation will be full of increasingly Healthy PeopleTM! (*cough*ItAlreadyIS*cough*).”

Yeah because if I eat a not-so-yummy bit of food I totally just want MORE of it because it tastes so not-delicious that I want MORE of it to get the same level of pleasure as someone who thinks it tastes better…. O.o  Okay.  Sure.  Let me get right on scarfing down MORE of things that I don’t get as much pleasure from because in my little fat pigeon mind it means I’ll eventually add up to the same pleasure gained by someone with more sensitive fat-tasting receptors.  Maybe I just don’t understand science (very possible considering my awful memories of classes like Chemistry) but this seems a tad illogical; I mean we are human beings and capable of (unlike mice or other test animals perhaps) deciding (and then acting upon this realization) that a particular food is “Meh” and then not trying to Eat the World of them in order to get a Food High.  But then, medical science never really has been too keen on allowing that Fat Humans are not just Stupid Thin People covered in a layer of Subcutaneous Blubber, now have they?

Some interesting questions brought up by Dr. Sharma’s musings** on these findings:

1) Is the increased ability to taste fat genetic or are changes in fat-sensitivity determined by habitual fat intake (gustatory plasticity)?

2) Does weight loss affect people’s ability to taste fat (resulting in them searching out fattier foods when on a diet)?

3) Does going on a low fat-diet increase fat sensitivity thereby allowing people to get the same pleasure out of low-fat foods?

4) Can we develop artificial compounds that can stimulate the fat receptors thereby mimicking a higher fat content of foods (like we do with artificial sweeteners)?

Some good questions to reflect upon.  Is the next surge in marketing going to be pills or devices designed to trick our brains into THINKING we’ve eaten tasty tasty fat? Has the rampant dieting we have many of us engaged in for so long worked to destroy our fat-tasting receptors? How much of this ability to taste or gain pleasure from lower levels of fat genetic?

In an interesting sort of close to this post I’d like to point to an article I was led to by Dr. Sharma’s blog:

What if obesity is not simply the result of lifestyle “choice” but rather the result of lifestyle “chance”?

An interesting topic to further explore, yes?  Brings up thoughts about a lot of the confluence of factors such as socioeconomic class, race, gender and more. While it does end with the “Let’s figure this out and then Fix Obesity For Good!”, the idea that not everyone has the access to fresh foods, safe exercise spaces and all those “Good Healthy Behaviors” proposed as the cure-all to Fat is one worth exploring.

Full citation of the corresponding research study article: Stewart, Jessica et al. “Oral sensitivity to fatty acids, food consumption and BMI in human subjects.” British Journal of Nutrition. (March 2010) Web: http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=7311680

*Actually the abstract from the actual study indicates that the sample was 31 people in part 1 of the study to establish taste thresholds and 54 people in part 2 screen for sensitivity to fatty acids.

**Dr. Sharma, according to his own “About” page: “has authored and co-authored more than 250 scientific articles and has lectured widely on the etiology and management of obesity and related cardiovascular disorders.” But while I find his views of interest here it is worth noting that he is not by any means a Health At Any Size proponent or interested in the concept of Fat NOT being automatically Unhealthy (and therefore a growing global crisis to cure with weight loss… somehow).  I DO however like his encouragement of trying to understand fat patients and offering up things to consider which give me hope for the medical profession.

3 thoughts on “Fatties have more flavor!

  1. You know, my personal experience (and I know full well that anecdote is not data) has been that I’m more likely to do the thing of trying to eat more to get the high I’m not getting from things that have had the fat artificially sucked out of them.

    A few months ago, I was getting over a cold and Mr. Twistie asked me if there was anything he could get me from the store to make me feel better. I suddenly flashed on the thought that I wanted yogurt. I asked him to pick some up for me. Alas! he did not check the labels and brought home the kind that was on the best sale… the diet housebrand.

    I opened one up anyway and ate it. The artificial sweetener left a metallic taste in my mouth and my gut was utterly unsatisfied. The lizard part of my brain kept telling me I needed to have more because I hadn’t really had my yogurt yet. I resisted, but part of me kept trying to look for the flavor and satisfaction my body wanted.

    A couple weeks later, I wanted yogurt again (still). This time I felt better so I went out and bought it. I got full-fat, plain yogurt and some fresh berries (blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries, yum). I took about half a cup of yogurt, a handful or so of mixed berries, a few chopped pecans, and a drizzle of honey, mixed them together and ate them for breakfast. I honestly wasn’t hungry again until just about the time I needed to start thinking about lunch.

    One not-terribly-large tub of plain yogurt lasted me four days.

    So yes, I did keep wanting to eat more of the unsatisfying thing looking for what wasn’t in it… but it was the one that didn’t have the true flavor and full combination of nutrients that left me so unsatisfied – so hungry. From my travels in the Fat-o-sphere, I don’t believe my reaction to those two yogurts is all that unusual.

    In fact, if all we need is fifty people to self-report, I think we could absolutely prove the opposite of this study in less than a week.

    • Twistie I think a good distinction though for your anecdote is that this was your experience with food which had had all the fat (and flavor?) sucked out as opposed to your experience in being able to taste the sensation of that Fat Taste in general. I agree that those fake “Fat-free” foods will just end up leaving you craving more of what you actually went to them in the first place to experience though so perhaps the study was trying to speak to that experience more?

      But yeah, 50 people does not sound like a wealth of info to me…

  2. -head desk-

    I really really hate studies with small sample sizes. It makes me so angry. And then I hear people parroting them and going “Yeah, but this study said…”

    Yeah, and I could make a study of my friends that said 100% of people enjoy exercising, or 100% of people enjoyed Snowman’s second album. Statistics are so flawed, you can say pretty much anything if you know how to phrase it.

    And yeah, this whole “Fatties can’t taste fat”? Bull. I am super sensitive to fat in my food, it makes me gag. And I’m obese.

    I swear I am the UFO of fat science.

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