In a new study, researchers at the Centre for Advanced Sensory Science at Deakin University in Australia showed, for the first time, that it is possible to increase the ability of obese or overweight people to taste fat in their food by altering their diets, which can lead to less likelihood of overeating. The research article, “Dietary fat restriction increases fat taste sensitivity in people with obesity,” was published in the journal Obesity.
Previous research at Deakin identified fat as part of the human tongue’s range of tastes, along with sour, bitter, sweet, umami, and salt. Researchers also previously showed that people who are not able to taste fat in their foods are more likely to overeat.
In line with these research findings, the scientists investigated the hypothesis that individuals with obesity may be less sensitive to the taste of fat, and that this can be overturned by dietary changes. The study enrolled 53 overweight or obese participants who were subjected to a six-week diet of low-fat (25 percent fat) or portion-controlled (33 percent fat) meals. Fat taste thresholds (lowest detectable fat concentration), fat perception — an individual’s ability to identify fat — and food preferences were assessed at baseline and at week six. Height, weight, waist and hip measurements were collected.
The results showed that the fat-taste thresholds decreased in both diet groups, although the effect was stronger in the low-fat diet group. Consumption of both diets resulted in a reduction of the participants’ weight, with no significant difference between groups. Although food preference did not change on either diet, the ability to perceive different fat concentrations in foods was increased after the low-fat diet only.
The findings indicated that it is possible to train the body to be sensitive to the taste of fat, which could lead to weigh loss and weight gain prevention.
“It is becoming clear that our ability to taste fat is a factor in the development of obesity,” Prof. Russell Keast, head of the Centre for Advanced Sensory Science and the study’s senior author, said in a press release. “The results of this recent study, along with previous work, point to increasing fat taste sensitivity in those who are insensitive as a target for obesity treatment and prevention.”