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See Inside August 2008

Magnifying Taste: New Chemicals Trick the Brain into Eating Less

Compounds that enhance the sweet and salty flavors of foods could combat obesity and heart disease

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Humans are hardwired to love the sweet, savory and salty foods that provide the energy, protein and electrolytes we need. In an age of mass-produced products laden with sugar and salt, however, our taste proclivities can readily bring on obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes—all among society’s biggest health problems.

But what if a handful of tiny compounds could fool our brains into eating differently? That is the idea behind the new science of flavor modulation. Scientists who have unlocked the long-standing mystery of taste biology are developing inexpensive yet potent compounds that make foods taste sweeter, saltier and more savory (heartier) than they really are. By adding tiny amounts of these modulators to traditional foods, manufacturers could reduce the amount of sugar, salt and monosodium glutamate (MSG) needed to satisfy, resulting in healthier products.

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