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In 2010 Australian researchers from Deakin University, Australia announced the discovery of a sixth taste sense.
Yes, you may know we can distinguish sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Did you know we have a taste sense for umami for protein rich foods?

Now, we also know we have taste buds that are sensitive to the amount of fat we eat in our food.

Why is this relevant to obesity?

The latest research indicates that if we are overweight and consume a lot of fat in our diet, our ability to taste that fat is diminished. Normally if we eat a high fat food our body is able to detect the large intake of kilojoules, our body’s satiety kicks in and we stop eating. This doesn’t happen if you regularly eat a lot of high fat foods. You lose your fat taste sensitivity, so you carry on eating and oops, there comes the weight gain.

That explains why if you haven’t had a fatty meal for a while, and then you have something like fish and chips, you may struggle to eat it because it “tastes” greasy or fatty. If however you were eating deep fried foods regularly, then you would not notice that “fatty” taste as much.

In the study the researchers worked with a group of normal weight people and a group of overweight or obese people. Each group were put on firstly a low fat diet for four weeks and then a high fat diet for four weeks. Their ability to taste fatty foods was tested before and after both diets.

Putting everyone on a low fat diet increased an individual’s ability to detect fat in the food they were eating, regardless of body size.

However, when on the high fat diet, those who were already over weight did not show a change in their sensitivity to fat whereas those in the normal weight range did.

The researchers are hopeful that it may become possible to help train people, especially those who are overweight, to develop their taste sensitivity for fat which would help them achieve weight loss.

The researchers also noted that those in the overweight and obese group as a whole, consumed more meat and more dairy foods, both of which tend to contain a higher level of fat.

They are now looking into whether genetics plays a role in our fat taste sensitivity. If you are interested in participating in this study they are looking for volunteers! You can contact them at sensory@deakin.edu.au

Dietary Fat intake in the U.S.

I have recently spent time in Los Angeles, which was wonderful. I met so many fabulous people. It was great fun! During that time I was really curious to see what the American diet was actually like and I have to confess to some preconceived notions.

My observations from my limited time there, and exposure to a very small representation of local menus, was that American portion sizes are ways too big. Ordering a salad for one, it would arrive in a serving dish sufficient to feed four.
One evening at a restaurant, while people watching (a favourite pastime of mine), I observed a group of three men order buffalo wings (deep fried chicken wings) the ubiquitous burger and fries and kebabs. OK, a somewhat fatty selection. The portions, when they arrived, were huge and the men all tucked in with gusto. They then called the waitress back and ordered, yes you guessed it, another round of the same and then a third round! Perhaps they hadn’t read Professor Keast’s research on fat taste sensitivity, and yes two were over weight and one chap was obese. Their mouths did not stop either eating or drinking the entire time they were there, apart from when speaking to each other.

Should food suppliers provide a health warning on certain foods?

In Japan, eating fugu fish comes with a definite warning, if it has not been correctly prepared, death may result.
Should we be putting health warnings on those high fat, high salt, high sugar foods, which if consumed in excess can lead to obesity, heart disease and diminished brain function?

Obesity is a risk factor for poor brain health and dementia. It is a growing health problem globally, yet authorities seem loathe to tackle the issue.

I leave you with a couple of items (I can’t even bring myself to describe them as food) that I came across recently. This highlights the issue of poor nutrition being advertised to the unsuspecting public.

At the State Wisconsin fair you can order “Deep fried butter” – yes this goes one step further than the deep fried camembert that was popular at one time in the 70’s. It comes as a wonton dusted with powdered sugar. Then there is the “Deep fried beer” as a ravioli, or perhaps you’d like the “Bacon sundae” – vanilla ice-cream, pancake syrup and bacon bits.

If you are overweight and consuming these high fat items, then your ability to actually “taste” the fat they contain is reduced. Your body cannot distinguish when it has received enough kilojoules, so you keep eating. Plus of course, there is the addictive side of eating excess fat which is an issue I have reported previously.

I would love to hear your thoughts about fat taste sensitivity.

Stewart, J.E., Keast,R.S.J. Recent fat intake modulates fat taste sensitivity in lean and overweight subjects International Journal of Obesity advance online publication 9 August 2011; doi: 10.1038/ijo.2011.155

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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