Sugar, salt and fat substitutes 'blunt' nutrient perception

By Paul Gander

- Last updated on GMT

Complex flavour combinations impact taste perception ©iStock
Complex flavour combinations impact taste perception ©iStock

Related tags Taste diet Nutrient

New French research shows that ‘nutrient signalling’, or the ability to taste the presence of a given nutrient in foods, becomes less efficient and less reliable as foods become more complex and different tastes compete for attention, potentially confusing our ability to judge and adjust dietary intake.

Christophe Martin and Sylvie Issanchou of the Université de Bourgogne Franche-Comté, Dijon, were responsible for the paper published in Food Quality and PreferenceJournal​. Issanchou explained their research objectives to FoodNavigator: “The first was to investigate correlations between the taste intensity and nutrient content in common foods. The five tastes and fat sensations were considered.”

She added: “The second objective was to explore the impact of the other perceived tastes, potentially competing, on each direct relationship identified.”

A further aim was to determine whether the presence of certain nutrients could be inferred from an appraisal of the five taste groups, plus fat sensation. “The idea was to put together an overview of what can be learned from tastes about the nutrient content of today’s foods,”​ she summarised.

The paper’s results were obtained by cross-referring the team’s own sensory data on a large number of foods eaten in France, presented as a food-taste database four years ago, with nutritional data.

Competing tastes blunt perception

Issanchou highlighted the way in which competing tastes can erode the relationship between the nutrient responsible for a given taste and that taste’s intensity. “This could work in two directions,”​ she explained. “For example, sugar could mask saltiness, but umami could enhance saltiness. There are other works demonstrating that some flavours could enhance the perceived intensity of different tastes.”​ One example might be bacon flavour, which can intensify perceptions of saltiness.

Overall, she agreed that the proliferation of nutrient replacers, from sugar and salt substitutes to texturising ingredients mimicking the characteristics of fats, was making it more difficult for today’s consumers to assess nutrient content purely on the basis of taste perception.

She emphasised the importance of nutrient-sensing as a way of monitoring and adjusting consumption based on learned associations.

“One could hypothesise that the co-existence on the market of foods with, for example, similar levels of ‘fattiness’ but different fat contents could adversely affect consumers’ capacity to anticipate satiation, leading them to choose bigger portions and not adequately adjust their food intake,”​ Issanchou said.

Asked what the next steps might be in research terms, she explained: “We think it would be necessary to conduct randomised, controlled trials to confirm our hypothesis that when the taste/nutrients relation is not disturbed, individuals adjust their dietary intakes better.”

Source: Food Quality and PreferenceJournal

“Nutrient sensing: What can we learn from different tastes about the nutrient contents in today’s foods?”

Available online ahead of print,

Authors: Christophe Martin, Sylvie Issanchou

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