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Scientist inside a lab

New research to help combat overeating

Sweet, sour, salty and – fatty? Does fat have a discernible taste? Yes it does, according to Deakin University sensory science researchers. And better yet, this knowledge could help combat the world’s growing obesity problem.

‘Research from animal and human studies provides conclusive evidence that there is fat taste,’ says Professor Russell Keast, head of Deakin’s Centre of Advanced Sensory Science. ‘For fat to be considered a taste it must meet some strict criteria, and it does.’

So why does the fat taste matter?

It can make low-fat food taste better

‘There is great potential for the food and health industries to develop new low-energy products using the knowledge on fat taste,’ says Prof. Keast. He explains that over the years many low-fat foods have been introduced onto the market and failed, because they were also low on taste. But fat activates taste receptors. So if fat taste was harnessed and integrated into low-fat foods, perhaps they would prove more popular. And if low-fat food tasted great, this would help people reduce their calorie intake.

It can help decrease overeating

‘Our research has shown that those who are sensitive to the taste of fat, eat less. This has become powerful knowledge,’ says Prof. Keast. His research team has found that high-fat diets change a person’s taste buds, making them less sensitive to the taste of fat, and leading to overeating.

Keast explains that a person’s tastebuds can be ‘re-tuned’ to become more sensitive, simply be decreasing the amount of fat they eat, and this could be an important step towards losing weight and keeping it off.

‘One of the problems with dieting is the long-term sustainability. What we would be looking for in terms of strategies, is to increase a person’s sensitivity to fat through a low-fat diet, and then maintain high levels of activation of those fat receptors.’

The Centre for Advanced Sensory Science at Deakin University helps the sustainable growth of the Australian food industry and is training the next generation of sensory scientists. Interested in joining them? Find a Deakin course to get you there.

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Professor Russell Keast
Professor Russell Keast

Professor, School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University
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