This week we were discussing SENSORY SPECIFIC SATIETY in our psychology class and.. I find it fascinating!
Why do we stop eating? Because we got enough calories/feel full/got the right nutrients? Looks like we stop food intake cognitively– by knowing that we ate enough and knowing when it is appropriate to stop [studies on folks with short-term memory loss, it was found that they would eat the meal several times despite having a large meal already, when most of us would report being full at that point]
SSS within a meal
Sensory specific satiety (SSS) basically means you get tired of the taste&texture of food (studies show it happens even if you don’t swallow the food; thus it is not about getting full on calories). To be a bit more scientific in my definition: “as food is consumed, its pleasantness declines while that of other foods remains relatively unchanged”; this phenomenon of SSS leads to the termination of eating a particular food, while promoting the selection of other foods. So after being destructively full after a large meal..many would suddenly find “space” for a dessert.
The studies done with SSS show that if you sit down people for lunch and give them several small sandwiches with different flavors of cream cheeses, people will eat considerably more than if all those sandwiches had only one flavor (even if that flavor is a favorite of the individual). Other example is that people eat more of pasta if their bowl had more types/shapes of it. SSS does not mean that you stop wanting food- it means you don’t want more of the same food. For example, after a meal of x, y, z you are given more y… the person would say “thank you I am full”… vs. being given h– something you have not developed sensory satiety for and will still eat (therefore, all you can eat buffets are not such a wonderful idea;)
So truly, this is a great adaptation, because it motivates us to eat a variety of things. It also means that, if our meals has a large variety (in its texture & flavor) we tend to eat more. This is not particularly useful, though, in an environment where delicious food is available 24/7 and one looks to maintain a healthy weight. Think about many sauces or salad dressings that combine both strong sweet and salty tastes (thus, making sure we don’t get satiated as soon..and probably eat more).
SSS seems to work well with fats and proteins, but not so much with basic starches. What this means is that people don’t get sick of eating bread, pasta, and other starchy carbs over time.
SSS over time…
So far I talked about short-term SSS, or satiety with one meal; however the same is true when the same food is eaten over time (i’m sure you’ve experienced this- if you keep eating the same thing daily you might get tired of it), even though long-term SSS is more complicated. The study I read*, for example, looked at eating high energy-dense snack foods for 12 weeks (hazelnuts, chocolate, potato chips). While people’s sensory-specific satiety decreased (they liked them less) over time, the desire to eat these foods didn’t…and intake increased. So habitually eating high calorie snacks could lead to higher energy intake of the snack and weight gain. You don’t really want to have a low threshold for SSS- that means you don’t get sick of foods and may overeat them more.
Why I find this interesting? It makes me think of dieting…most dieting restricts something– carbs, fats, certain ingredients (gluten; dairy). When people see weight loss, perhaps it is because the more narrow range of foods leads them to quicker sensory satiety and then overall they just eat less? Many diet plans emphasize calculating calories is not important, as if you can eat way over your limit and not gain weight..but perhaps you naturally are lead to consume less because of the monotony of the diet?
Another thought I had- mono-eating= eating one food at a time until you are food. The idea is- it is better for digestion, but also- looks like you would limit your food intake much more naturally (with less effort) when not having a variety in one meal.
Overall, I think this is quite interesting. While we want a healthy variety in our diet, we probably want to concentrate it on the vegetables and other healthy foods we don’t get enough of. Variety in ice-cream and chip flavors is probably not essential at this time and age.
*Tey, S. L., Brown, R. C., Gray, A. R., Chisholm, A. W., & Delahunty, C. M. (2012). Long-term consumption of high energy-dense snack foods on sensory-specific satiety and intake. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 95(5), 1038-1047.
*** for more info on SSS, search for papers by Barbara Rolls.