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The Science of Flavor: Your Secret Weapon for Weight Loss

The science shows that flavor satisfaction is one of the most helpful tools in the weight loss and weight maintenance journey. Learn tips to enhance flavor and enjoyment—while still losing weight.

Flavor…you know it when you taste it in a spicy chicken fajita, a fragrant curry rice bowl, a fresh strawberry or vine-ripened tomato. One word…delicious! But how we experience flavor is actually a mind-body, dynamic mix of sensory experience. In addition, flavoris a key factor in successful weight loss. The science shows that flavor satisfaction is one of THE most helpful tools in the weight loss and weight maintenance journey. By focusing on enjoyment and pleasure, you can really enjoy every single bite—while still losing weight.

To create that greater satisfaction, you can rely on the (tasty) tools coming out of a new area of science called neurogastronomy…the study of how our brain perceives flavor. Neurogastronomy brings together chefs, neuroscientists, and behavioral psychologists to study how our senses stimulate the brain and how this knowledge can be used to change how we eat.

Use Your Skills to Eat Less (and enjoy it more)

Multiple studies clearly indicate that when we meet flavor satisfaction by slowing down to allow for the full taste experience, we are able to be satisfied with less! That, in turn, results in weight loss and a better relationship with food. Simply put, it means we can eat less and enjoy it more. Wondr tip: Chewing slowly, taking the time to incorporate your favorite flavors, and using your 10-5-10 timer to help determine fullness will help you maximize this science.

What is flavor?

76% of all food choices are made based on taste which is, of course, a personal decision. It’s in your DNA. It’s what you like and what you grew up with. You have your own unique taste buds. In fact, you have more than 4,000 taste buds all over your mouth not just on your tongue? But flavor is SO much more than taste. Flavor is actually TASTE + AROMA + TEXTURE. 

Umami and MMMmore

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, there are 5 distinct “tastes”. They are: sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami (also known as savory):

  • Sweet is the taste of natural sugars found in many fruits and honey.
  • Salty is the taste of sodium and chloride (think salt crystals).
  • Bitter is a sharp, pungent taste that comes from 35 different proteins found in plants.
  • Sour is the taste of acidic solutions like lemon juice.
  • Umami (or savory) comes from protein building blocks called amino acids, naturally occurring in foods like meats, cheese, mushrooms, tomatoes, soy sauce, etc.

Take a whiff

80% of what we call taste is actually aroma. That bite of chocolate chip cookie would not taste the same if you couldn’t smell it. It’s a completely different and powerful experience when the fusion of aromas hits the nose and the mouth. Researchers have identified at least 10 distinct aromas. Some are unpleasant, but the appealing ones are lemon, fragrant/floral, woody, fruity, minty, sweet and finally…nutty/popcorn!

Making memories

Try this at home. Slice up a lemon or open up a jar of lemon zest. With your nose plugged, take a small taste. What do you notice? Repeat this experiment, but this time take a deep inhale through your nose. It should be a completely different experience and it could even inspire a memory or two…perhaps lemonade on a hot summer day or your favorite lemon chicken dish from the restaurant? Aroma is definitely associated with memory!

The Role of Texture

Lastly, there’s texture. This is the final ingredient in the recipe for flavor satisfaction. Let’s imagine taking a bite of pecan pie. As you chew, the bite of pie offers the soft, gooey texture of the pie filling mixed with a few crisp pecans. It’s the perfect balance of soft to hard texture that adds to your overall perception of the pie’s flavor.  Several studies have found that as food hardness decreases, flavor intensity increases. You will recognize texture described as:  creamy, crunchy, crispy, flaky, juicy, chewy, smooth, sticky and crumbly (to name a few).

Flavor Fun (and Function)

Tapping the flavor satisfaction tool (and the enhanced weight loss that comes with it) does not have to be elaborate. You can repurpose a few of the basic ingredients you may already have in your fridge or pantry. Certainly, there are salt-free spice mixes that add flavor with a simple shake. Consider these other creative ideas as well.

Low-sodium chicken/vegetable broth = Umami taste

  1. Cut a creamy soup with broth to add that savory flavor.
  2. Sauté vegetables in broth instead of butter.
  3. Use broth as part of the liquid when you make brown rice or quinoa.

Lemon = Sour taste

  1. Squeeze it over any tossed green salad.
  2. Add a wedge to your drinking water.
  3. Pair it with fresh dill to brighten up the flavor of simply steamed green beans (or any vegetable).

Greek yogurt = Creamy texture

  1. Use it as a creamy replacement for mayo on a sandwich or for tuna/egg salad.
  2. Try Greek yogurt as an equally rich substitute for whole milk in mac and cheese for a higher protein, delicious twist.
  3. Top a baked potato with a dollop of Greek yogurt and then add salsa for bold flavor.

Vinegar = Sour taste

  1. Dress up lettuce wraps with rice vinegar (or add to salads) for flavor flair.
  2. Use garlic-infused vinegar in the pan after cooking chicken or pork to create a light sauce/glaze.
  3. Marinate cucumbers and tomatoes in balsamic vinegar as a colorful side to any meal.

Cinnamon = Aroma (woody)

  1. Add ground cinnamon to coffee grounds before brewing.
  2. Oven roast sweet potato slices or butternut squash cubes and sprinkle with cinnamon and a little pepper.
  3. Vary your oatmeal by stirring in some cinnamon and then top with a few slivered almonds or sunflower seeds.

Who would have thought that greater weight loss could come from ADDING to your meal plan? Using the science of flavor is a great way to not only spice up your meals—but the key to long-lasting weight loss and enjoyment.

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