You don’t decide what to eat, your nose and tongue decide it for you

Recent researches show that active role of sensory organs can affect food choices and cause food addiction and over eating  

By Meenakshi Sushma
Published: Monday 21 January 2019
Photo: Getty Images

While most people constantly struggle to decide if they should consume healthy or unhealthy food, what they don’t know is that many times their senses make these decisions for them.

A recent study done by American marketing association showed that aroma can determine what your shopping bag will contain. It can dissuade one from buying unhealthy food items. For this study, the aroma of cookies and pizzas were used for unhealthy food and that of strawberries and apples for healthy items.

These scents were sprayed in three places—supermarkets, school canteens and laboratories. When people were exposed to the aroma of high calorie food items for a prolonged period, they felt like they had already consumed the unhealthy food and bought the healthy products. But when they inhaled the low-calories food scent, their shopping list did not change at all.

But, there were still two factors that played imperative roles in these results. One, how sensitive people’s senses are. “The study highlights that people with higher scent-identification capability are more influenced by the indulgent ambient scent and it affected those with weaker capabilities a little less,” says the study.

Two, the duration for which the person is exposed to the scent. If the time is less than two minutes, the effect can be reversed. Those who inhaled the high-calorie food smell for less than 30 seconds bought more cookies and pizzas.

Not just food cravings, but over-consumption of food items is also related to sensory organs. For example, quinine, a component with gives certain food a bitter taste, pushes people consuming the food item in high quantities. A recent study done by Jue-ShengOng  from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Brisbane, Australia, and published by Scientific Reports says, “Higher levels of quinine is associated with higher alcohol consumption than propylthiouracil (PROP), another component that makes food taste bitter.”

The study titled ‘Understanding the role of bitter taste perception in coffee, tea, and alcohol consumption’ through Mendelian randomization’ was done using three components that cause bitterness—PROP, quinine and caffeine—associated with three beverages—tea, coffee and alcohol. All three bitter components had different effects. Caffeine, a component in coffee, was associated with increased coffee intake. PROP and quinine led to high consumption of tea.

The study states, “Different kinds of bitter tastes are associated with different beverages. At a consumption level, a significant level of health outcomes could be possible, but further investigation is required to identify them.”

Other than bitter components, preservatives and additives too cause overeating. For instance, Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), a flavour enhancer and a component also used as a food additive by food processing industry, increases dopamine (a neurotransmitter present in brain) levels. Higher levels of dopamine makes the brain feel happy, which makes people consume it more.

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