complex carbs

Individual taste preferences shape food intake. A recent study tested whether taste sensitivity for complex carbs shaped taste preferences and food intake.

Many adults struggle with their weight, in part because modern diets are highly dependent on energy- and carbohydrate-rich foods like bread, pasta, and soda. However, different people perceive simple carbohydrates (simple sugars) and complex carbohydrates differently. These differences in taste perception may affect how much people are eating, and this, in turn, will affect how much they weigh.

In the Journal of Nutrition, Low and colleagues investigated people’s taste sensitivity to complex carbohydrates and the relationship of that sensitivity to waist circumference, which is typically considered a good estimate of overweight. The researchers collected measurements of height, weight, and waist circumference, as well as dietary intake over a period of four days, from 16 men and 18 women. Eighteen of the participants were overweight or obese. They also measured sensitivity to complex carbs on a standardized scale, by feeding the participants maltodextrin and oligofructose in solutions of varying concentrations and having participants report the strength of the taste.

Men and women showed no differences in their taste sensitivity to complex carbs. Normal weight and overweight individuals also did not differ in their overall taste sensitivity, but sensitivity for maltodextrin was significantly linked to waist circumference, and when individuals were classified into high or low sensitivity, more sensitive individuals had higher waist circumferences. In general, individuals with higher sensitivity to both carbohydrates had larger waist circumferences. Further, individuals with high sensitivity to maltodextrin reported consuming more calories per day on average, and individuals with high sensitivity to both carbohydrates consumed greater quantities of starch on a daily basis.

In summary, individuals with higher sensitivity had higher caloric and starch intake on a daily basis. Although there are clear links between complex carb taste sensitivity and starch intake, the researchers did not ask whether participants actually enjoyed those starchy foods more. Higher sensitivity to maltodextrin may instead make certain processed foods, high in food additives, more palatable. The digestion process itself may further shape those taste sensitivities and taste preferences, so that individuals who have an easier time digesting starches may develop taste sensitivities that allow them to eat more starches. Further, given the relationship of waist circumference, but not body mass index, to taste sensitivities, it may be that waist circumference is more reflective of carbohydrate and starch intake than of weight generally.

Written by C.I. Villamil

Reference: Low et al. 2017. J Nutrition. Carbohydrate taste sensitivity.

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