-- Robert Preidt
FRIDAY, Jan. 24, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- How fatty is that food
in front of you? Your nose knows, a new study suggests.
The study, which found that people's sense of smell is adept at
gauging foods' fat content, might have real-world uses. For
example, it might be possible to manipulate food products' odor to
make low-fat items more appealing, thereby cutting the amount of
fat in people's diets, said researchers at the Monell Chemical
Senses Center in Philadelphia.
"The human sense of smell is far better at guiding us through our everyday lives than we give it credit for," study senior author and neuroscientist Johan Lundstrom said in a center news release. "That we have the ability to detect and discriminate minute differences in the fat content of our food suggests that this ability must have had considerable evolutionary importance."
Fat is "calorie dense" and has been an important source of
energy for humans through much of evolution, the researchers said.
This means it would have been to our advantage to be able to detect
the nutrient in food.
To test people's ability to smell fat in food, the researchers
had volunteers smell milk with three amounts of fat found in a
typical milk product: 0.125 percent, 1.4 percent or 2.7 percent
The test was conducted three times using different sets of
participants: in Philadelphia with normal-weight people, in the
Netherlands with normal-weight people; and again in Philadelphia
with both normal-weight and overweight people.
In all three experiments, people were able to use their sense of
smell to detect the different levels of fat in the milk, regardless
of their culture or weight, according to the study, which was
published Jan. 22 in the journal
Study lead author Sanne Boesveldt, a sensory neuroscientist,
said the next step is identifying the odor molecules in the food
that allow people to detect fat levels.
"Fat molecules typically are not airborne, meaning they are unlikely to be sensed by sniffing food samples," Boesveldt said in the news release. "We will need sophisticated chemical analyses to sniff out the signal."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more
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