Chefs love to add dietary fat to meals, and for a good reason. In the 1500s, the French physician and philosopher Jean Fernell proposed that humans could directly taste fat. We now know that Mr. Fernell was correct; in addition to taste buds for salt, sweet, bitter, sour, umami, and maybe menthol, taste buds also exist for fat which contributes to the direct sensory experience of meals. This ability to taste fat could be derived from an evolutionary advantage in the ability to absorb essential fatty acids from food.
Fat helps to lubricate the mouth and blend flavors together (i.e., it creates a desirable ‘mouth feel’). It takes different ingredients from a bite of food and makes one complete sensory experience. The chemical properties of fat also release flavors from food ingredients, creating a richer olfactory (smell) experience; and smell is a fundamental component to taste. Fat, therefore, increases the sensory stimulation from a meal and makes it taste better, smell better, and feel better in your mouth. This strong taste stimulus can lead to strong feelings of pleasure in the pleasure-measuring centers of our brain.
Pleasure generation from fatty foods can alter our eating behavior and cause an imbalance between hunger-driven eating behavior and pleasure-driven eating. We’ve all experienced this: We recognize that we’re full but we continue to eat because the food tastes great. Unfortunately, chronic pleasure-driven eating may strengthens the drive to overeat, and may simultaneously weaken the signals that say ‘you’ve had enough’.
This is not to say we should not seek to derive great pleasure from food. Indeed, pleasure from eating is one of the greatest experiences life has to offer. We just need to incorporate strategies to mitigate ever-so-easy overindulgence behaviors. With that in mind, the first few bites will generate the greatest pleasure stimulation from that meal, and overeating has immediate and long-terms negative consequences (the Dan’s Plan program materials outline our approach to keep eating pleasure high while keeping quantity in check, which facilitates a lifetime of food enjoyment at your ideal weight).
Part 1: Dietary fat triggers feelings of fullness, which if listened to, can help prevent overeating.
Part 2: Dietary fat triggers pleasure which can override signals that help you feel full, and becomes problematic if you regularly overeat (it makes you want to overeat all the time!).
In Part 3, we’ll discuss if fat is healthful to include in your diet.