Exploiting Sensory-Specific Satiety for Weight Loss

Exploiting Sensory-Specific Satiety for Weight Loss
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How can we use sensory-specific satiety to our advantage?

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

When you eat the same food over and over, you become habituated to it and end up liking it less. That’s why your “10th bite of chocolate, for example, [doesn’t taste as good as] the first bite.” We have a built-in biological drive to get us to keep changing up our foods so we’ll be more likely to hit all our nutritional requirements. The drive is so powerful that even “imagined consumption reduces actual consumption.” If you have someone imagine they’re eating cheese, for example, over and over, and then you give them actual cheese, they eat less of it than those who hadn’t been imagining they were eating cheese.  

Ironically, habituation may be one of the reasons fad “mono diets,” like the cabbage soup diet and the oatmeal diet, or meal replacement shakes, can actually result in “[better] adherence, and lower ratings of hunger [compared to] less restrictive diets.”

In the landmark study “A Satiety Index of Common Foods,” in which dozens of foods were put to the test, boiled potatoes were found to be the most satiating food.  Two hundred and forty calories of boiled potatoes were found to be more satisfying in terms of quelling hunger than the same number of calories of any other food tested. No other food even came close.

No doubt potatoes’ low calorie density played a role. For people to eat 240 calories of spuds, the researchers had to feed them nearly a pound of potatoes, compared to just a few cookies, for example––but that’s kind of the point. And they had to feed people even more apples, grapes, and oranges, though, yet each fruit was still about 40 percent less satiating than the potatoes. So, an all-potato diet would probably take the gold—the Yukon gold—for the most bland, monotonous, and satiating diet.

Mono diets, where you just eat one thing, are the poster child for unsustainability, however, and thank heavens for that. Over time, they can lead to serious nutrient deficiencies (like blindness from vitamin A deficiency, in the case of white potatoes).

The satiating power of potatoes can still be brought to bear, though. Boiled potatoes beat out rice and pasta in terms of a satiating side dish, cutting as much as about 200 calories of intake off a meal. Compared to boiled and mashed potatoes, french fries or even baked ones, do not appear to have the same satiating impact.

To exploit habituation for weight loss while maintaining nutrient abundance, you could limit the variety of unhealthy foods you eat, while expanding the variety of healthy foods. In that way, you can simultaneously take advantage of the appetite-suppressing effects of monotony while diversifying your fruit and vegetable portfolio. Studies have shown that a greater variety of calorie-dense foods, like sweets and snacks, are associated with excess body fat, but a greater vegetable variety appeared protective. Presented with a greater variety of fruit… a greater variety of vegetables… and greater variety of vegetable seasonings, people may consume a greater quantity, crowding out less healthy options.

For the first 20 years of the official Dietary Guidelines for Americans, they recommended generally eating “a variety of foods.” In the new millennium they started getting more precise, specifying a diversity of healthier foods only. As a pair of Harvard and NYU dietitians concluded in a paper on dietary variety as an overlooked strategy for obesity and chronic disease control, “Choose and prepare a greater variety of plant-based foods,” recognizing that a greater variety of less healthy options could be counterproductive.

So, how can we respond to industry attempts to lure us into temptation by turning our natural biological drives against us? Should we never eat really delicious food? No, but it may help to recognize the effects hyperpalatable foods can have on hijacking our appetites, and undermining our bodies’ better judgment. We can also use some of those same primitive impulses to our advantage by monotonizing our choices of the bad, and diversifying our choices of the good. In How Not to Diet I call it “Meatball Monotony and Veggie Variety.” Try picking out a new fruit or vegetable every time you shop.

In my own family’s home, we always have a wide array of healthy snacks on hand to entice the finickiest of tastes. The contrasting collage of colors and shapes in fruit baskets and vegetable platters beat out boring bowls of a single fruit because they make you want to mix it up and try a little of each. And with different healthy dipping sauces, the possibilities are endless.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Video production by Glass Entertainment

Motion graphics by Avo Media

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

When you eat the same food over and over, you become habituated to it and end up liking it less. That’s why your “10th bite of chocolate, for example, [doesn’t taste as good as] the first bite.” We have a built-in biological drive to get us to keep changing up our foods so we’ll be more likely to hit all our nutritional requirements. The drive is so powerful that even “imagined consumption reduces actual consumption.” If you have someone imagine they’re eating cheese, for example, over and over, and then you give them actual cheese, they eat less of it than those who hadn’t been imagining they were eating cheese.  

Ironically, habituation may be one of the reasons fad “mono diets,” like the cabbage soup diet and the oatmeal diet, or meal replacement shakes, can actually result in “[better] adherence, and lower ratings of hunger [compared to] less restrictive diets.”

In the landmark study “A Satiety Index of Common Foods,” in which dozens of foods were put to the test, boiled potatoes were found to be the most satiating food.  Two hundred and forty calories of boiled potatoes were found to be more satisfying in terms of quelling hunger than the same number of calories of any other food tested. No other food even came close.

No doubt potatoes’ low calorie density played a role. For people to eat 240 calories of spuds, the researchers had to feed them nearly a pound of potatoes, compared to just a few cookies, for example––but that’s kind of the point. And they had to feed people even more apples, grapes, and oranges, though, yet each fruit was still about 40 percent less satiating than the potatoes. So, an all-potato diet would probably take the gold—the Yukon gold—for the most bland, monotonous, and satiating diet.

Mono diets, where you just eat one thing, are the poster child for unsustainability, however, and thank heavens for that. Over time, they can lead to serious nutrient deficiencies (like blindness from vitamin A deficiency, in the case of white potatoes).

The satiating power of potatoes can still be brought to bear, though. Boiled potatoes beat out rice and pasta in terms of a satiating side dish, cutting as much as about 200 calories of intake off a meal. Compared to boiled and mashed potatoes, french fries or even baked ones, do not appear to have the same satiating impact.

To exploit habituation for weight loss while maintaining nutrient abundance, you could limit the variety of unhealthy foods you eat, while expanding the variety of healthy foods. In that way, you can simultaneously take advantage of the appetite-suppressing effects of monotony while diversifying your fruit and vegetable portfolio. Studies have shown that a greater variety of calorie-dense foods, like sweets and snacks, are associated with excess body fat, but a greater vegetable variety appeared protective. Presented with a greater variety of fruit… a greater variety of vegetables… and greater variety of vegetable seasonings, people may consume a greater quantity, crowding out less healthy options.

For the first 20 years of the official Dietary Guidelines for Americans, they recommended generally eating “a variety of foods.” In the new millennium they started getting more precise, specifying a diversity of healthier foods only. As a pair of Harvard and NYU dietitians concluded in a paper on dietary variety as an overlooked strategy for obesity and chronic disease control, “Choose and prepare a greater variety of plant-based foods,” recognizing that a greater variety of less healthy options could be counterproductive.

So, how can we respond to industry attempts to lure us into temptation by turning our natural biological drives against us? Should we never eat really delicious food? No, but it may help to recognize the effects hyperpalatable foods can have on hijacking our appetites, and undermining our bodies’ better judgment. We can also use some of those same primitive impulses to our advantage by monotonizing our choices of the bad, and diversifying our choices of the good. In How Not to Diet I call it “Meatball Monotony and Veggie Variety.” Try picking out a new fruit or vegetable every time you shop.

In my own family’s home, we always have a wide array of healthy snacks on hand to entice the finickiest of tastes. The contrasting collage of colors and shapes in fruit baskets and vegetable platters beat out boring bowls of a single fruit because they make you want to mix it up and try a little of each. And with different healthy dipping sauces, the possibilities are endless.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Video production by Glass Entertainment

Motion graphics by Avo Media

Doctor's Note

This is the last video in my four-part series on appetite and weight loss. If you missed the first three, check out:

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

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