Ever notice how easy it is to overeat at an all-you-can-eat buffet? For one, you may be unconsciously trying to get your money’s worth – but that’s not the only reason. When you have a variety of food options available to you, you’re likely to eat more. This is due to a phenomenon called sensory-specific satiety.
What is Sensory-Specific Satiety?
Sensory-specific satiety is a mechanism your body has to make sure you eat a varied diet – one that’s rich in a variety of nutrients rather than eating the same foods over and over. From an evolutionary perspective, this would be important. It would make it less likely that you’d eat too much of any one food and develop nutritional deficiencies as a result.
How does sensory-specific satiety work? When you eat a single food, your appetite for that food gradually diminishes. If that’s the only food on your plate, you’ll feel full. But introduce another food and your appetite “perks back up.” Suddenly, you feel like eating again. Keep adding novel foods and flavor stimuli and you’ll continue to want to eat, at least up to a point. If you’re at an all-you-can-eat buffet or any set-up where you have access to a variety of foods, there are lots of food options to re-tantalize your taste buds and the calories add up – fast.
Why You Still Want Dessert When You’re Full
Have you ever felt “stuffed” after a big meal and then watched as dessert was brought out? Even though you thought you couldn’t eat another bite, you still found room for dessert. That’s sensory-specific satiety at work again. The main course may have satiated you but dessert was a novel taste stimulus that turned your appetite back on.
Ever notice how the first few bites of food always taste the best? After chewing on it for a while it seems to lose its flavor. That’s because the taste and the smell of the food are no longer novel. According to one study, a portion of your brain called the orbitofrontal cortex is involved in sensory-specific satiety.
Sometimes simply adding a new condiment to food can rekindle your desire to eat it. When you’re eating a bag of potato chips, you definitely don’t want a variety of dips to dip them into.
What Factors Influence Sensory-Specific Satiety?
Research shows the sensory characteristics of a food influence how quickly you tire of eating it. These include flavor, taste, and texture. How food looks counts too. A pretty dessert displayed in an attractive manner can turn your appetite back on even when you thought you couldn’t eat another bite. According to a study published in the journal Appetite, high-protein foods are more likely to satiate from a sensory standpoint compared to carby and fatty foods like soft drinks and rolls with butter.
Another study showed a food or beverage’s volume is a factor. We tend to satiate more quickly when a food or beverage has a higher volume even when the energy content of the food stays the same. So, you may tire of eating bowls of soup or a salad more quickly than food that’s denser.
Age may also be a factor in how quickly you tire of eating food. One study found sensory-specific satiety was more pronounced in adolescents than in the elderly. In other words, as you get older, foods may not lose their novelty as quickly as when you’re younger.
Do Obese People Have Diminished Sensory-Specific Satiety?
Since sensory-specific satiety can impact how much of a particular food you eat, you might wonder whether obese people don’t become satiated as quickly when they eat a single food – or maybe they recover their desire to eat that food more quickly. Most research shows this isn’t the case. They seem to satiate as quickly from a sensory standpoint as normal weight people.
What Does This Mean?
For one, avoid all-you-can-eat buffets. With so many food choices, you’re not going to feel satiated very quickly. Secondly, be mindful of how many foods you put on your plate when you sit down to eat. When you add variety to your plate, choose healthy, lower calorie options like veggies. Make sure you’re eating adequate amounts of high-quality protein for satiety.
Don’t fill your refrigerator and cabinets with a variety of unhealthy foods. It’s okay to keep something in the cabinet for a well-deserved splurge but don’t have a cabinet-full of splurges in all shapes and sizes. Limit your choices and you may find yourself eating less.
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