Myth: Can Delicious Flavor Lead to Obesity?

Does Food Flavor Lead to Obesity?

We all have foods that we crave.  The mere thought of eating them brings the flavor to mind and makes our mouths water.  It has often been postulated that sweet or fatty flavors by themselves might cause obesity.  Fat, sugar, and carbohydrates have been vilified as culprits when discussing the vastly increasing obesity epidemic.  Obesity is a disease now affecting over one-third of the US population, and the rate is increasing every year. In fact, books have been written highlighting this as a cause.  Author Mark Schatzker in “The Dorito Effect” argues that food flavors and flavorings are a big part of the problem affecting Americans’ waistlines and the corporation purposely uses them to hooks us and pull us into bad habits.  Does eating good-tasting food make you gain weight? 

Delicious Chocolate Cake

Delicious Chocolate Cake

According to Schatzker’s, Americans consume over 600 million pounds of artificial and natural flavoring every year. He indicates in his book that the volume of salt, sugar, carbohydrates, and fat that we consume had an increase in the past half-century because of flavors have encouraged us to eat more and more.  He uses the Dorito as an example of one product that is a bland tasting corn chip that has maximized flavor with spices and flavorings to encourage overconsumption to become a top-selling snack food.  I think it is a stretch to call this stuff food.  

Despite the common perception that food flavor is unhealthy and causes obesity, there is new research from the Monell Center that argues differently[1].  The study used a mouse model to look at that desirable taste and its effects on weight gain and food intake.  The study compared groups of 18 mice fed meals of chow or plain high-fat diet to groups fed these diets with and without added sucralose. During a 9-week test, the high-fat diet caused weight gain, but the body weights of mice fed the sucralose-sweetened diets did not differ from those fed the corresponding plain versions, and the mice showed a clear preference for the sweetened food.  

The point of the study is that even though the flavor may make us chose a particular food to eat, but the flavor does not lead to weight gain.  It is overindulgence that causes weight gain.  In this study, the higher fat foods caused increased body weight with or without sucralose added.  Even with sucralose added, there was not a significant difference in weight gain between the high-fat mice with and without sucralose.  

Recommendations from this study:

  1. Portion size not food choice is the key to weight loss.  I am not saying to eat Doritos.  Make healthy choices when you choose foods, but remember, they can taste good, and you are still not gain weight.  
  2. High-fat foods can cause weight gain.  High-fat foods are a dual-edged sword because they are both filling and full of calories.  

The bottom line: Flavor is not the cause of obesity or weight gain.  Too many calories own that cause 100%.  

[1]Tordoff et al., “Does Eating Good-Tasting Food Influence Body Weight?”
Tordoff, MG, JA Pearson, HT Ellis, and RL Poole. “Does Eating Good-Tasting Food Influence Body Weight?” Physiology & Behavior 170 (December 15, 2016): 27–31. [PubMed]
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About the Author

I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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