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Does Food Texture Affect How Much We Eat?

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Crispy and crunchy make us anticipate deliciousness while oily or grainy aren't popular selling points. Chefs and recipe developers know about the importance of texture and mouthfeel; texture adds another dimension to the food experience and makes food more interesting and enjoyable.

There's growing evidence that texture may also affect satiety.

We already know that people will consume more calories when they're eating liquid foods -- that's one of the reasons sugary drinks are linked so tightly with weight gain. Liquids are at the lowest end of texture, require no chewing, and pass through our mouth quickly. But even within the solid foods texture complexity varies a lot. A bag of crispy chips may deliver terrific texture, but much less texture complexity than a spinach salad containing some crunchy nuts, diced apple, creamy goat cheese and finely chopped onion.

A new study in Appetite, claiming it is the first of its kind, looks to see if textural complexity affects satiety regardless of how much time the food stays in one's mouth. In order to check that, the researchers, led by Danae Larsen, used specially designed foods with either low textural or high textural complexity. These test foods were identical in nutritional density and in flavor, and since the samples were very small the time they typically stayed in the mouth was similar. The basis of the test food was a gel, layered with either just finely ground poppy and sunflower seeds, or with several layers including whole poppy and sunflower seeds, a hard disc of dough and other chewy gums. These 4 bite-size samples were given before an eat-as-much-as-you-please meal, in which the first course was pasta with tomato sauce, and the second was chocolate cake. This was a randomized crossover experiment in which each of the 26 volunteers was assigned to both arms of the experiment.

And the results: After the high complexity appetizer people ate 160 grams -- 360 calories -- less pasta. When it came to dessert the high complexity group ate just about 20 grams less cake, which isn't significant. Overall, complex texture in the appetizer shaved about 400 calories from the meal and left the volunteers equally satisfied.

The take home message: Texture complexity is probably as beneficial to appetite control as it is for flavor. Try adding a bit of crunch from seeds or nuts and a sprinkle of crisp, chewy fresh herbs to your dishes.

Anything that slows our eating helps us enjoy more with less. Adding texture to food does this in a wonderful way.

Dr. Ayala

This is a crosspost of my blog, Healthy Food & Healthy Living.