Many of us believe fat to be responsible for adding a lot of desirable taste to foods and making us crave more. However, research has indicated that this is not at all the case and that the taste of fat alone in foods is rather unappetising. So what is it that keeps us coming back for more? It is actually attributed to the salt and/or sugar that goes hand in hand with fatty products.
Lately, researchers have taken a closer look at salt. Eating lots of it has been linked to obesity, even independent of calorie consumption. Some research even shows that liking salty, fatty foods is linked to overeating and overweight even more than having a taste for sweet fatty foods. Now, a new study published in the Journal of Nutrition suggests that salt is playing an even more powerful role than we thought in making us eat more.
The research was conducted at Deakin University on 48 healthy individuals. They first measured the individuals’ sensitivity to the taste of fat by providing them with drinks of which one contained a very small amount of fatty acids, then asking the participant to identify which drink contained the fat.
Then, once a week for four weeks, everyone ate four different lunches. The lunches looked pretty much the same—elbow macaroni with tomato sauce—but the researchers manipulated the amount of salt and fat in each pasta dish. The dishes were either low-fat/low-salt, low-fat/high-salt, high-fat/low-salt, or high-fat/high-salt. They measured how much they ate and also rated their reaction to the food on scales including pleasantness, hunger and fullness.
They found that adding salt to the meals increased how pleasant the participants perceived the food to be. Not only this but the participants wanted to eat more of the food overall, when compared to the lower salt options. Interestingly, this was not the case for the high vs. low fat options. There was no real link found between a higher fat content and people wanting to eat more of it versus the lower fat options.
Salt made people eat 11% more food and calories, regardless of how much fat was in the meal. Over the course of a day, that’s really a significant amount, says principal investigator and Deakin University professor Russell Keast. “We’re effectively blunting out their satiation response, Keast explains. When we think of the food supply in terms of salt and fat being optimized, the salt is having the effect of washing away what would be a normal biological mechanism that we’ve got to actually stop ourselves from eating.
However, fat doesn’t get off scot free. If we overeat on fat, even a little bit, we receive significantly more calories which can easily contribute to weight gain. The key to weight maintenance and healthy eating? Eliminate added salt from the diet and limit high fat foods.
Fat can still be blamed for a good portion of overeating. The high-fat meals led the people in the study to eat 60% more calories. But because fat is so energy-dense, they were eating the same volume of food. Eating more salt, however, did correlate to eating more food. Salt, therefore, seems to be driving the excessive consumption of fat, calories and food in general—something to remember the next time you pop open a bag of chips.