UPDATED NOVEMBER 26, 2017
You now have the Thanksgiving holiday behind you. No doubt you over-ate, as I did! That goes with the territory! It’s that crazy holiday phenomenon of “I’m too stuffed, I couldn’t eat another bite… what’s for dessert?!”
We have all been there, done that, and there is a valid scientific explanation for it, based on the neuroscience of appetite. It’s called sensory specific satiety. It has had prominent mention in all of my husband’s books on nutrition (his latest, Disease Proof, is written for a lay audience and I especially love it!) and has figured in the good works of others since as well (notably The End of Overeating by former FDA commissioner Dr. David A. Kessler).
Sensory Specific Satiety is the tendency to feel full and stop eating when flavors are relatively limited and to stay hungry and keep eating when flavors are excessively diverse. Control over this resides in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, where the appetite center resides. Put simply, here is how it works:
Each flavor we eat stimulates a different set of cells in that part of the brain–sweet flavors stimulate one area, salty another, sour yet another etc. Once you turn on an area of the appetite center, you must eat until those cells register fullness. if you turn on many areas at once, you must eat much more food before you feel full.
This is true at the level of a dish, a meal, an all-you-can eat-buffet and even at the level of a single food. Let me illustrate this:
Remember the Jif Peanut butter that I described in my Stealth Mom blog? It contains not only peanuts but also salt, sugar, molasses and fully hydrogenated oil. Each of these flavors activates a flavor meter in the hypothalamus, and in order to feel satisfied, each and everyone of them has to register full, so you keep on eating until you reach that threshold.
Now picture what a natural, unprocessed peanut butter (made of peanuts only–wow, figure that!) would register in your hypothalamus. One wholesome flavor, one meter only, no superfluous other flavors to stimulate other meters and you feel full sooner and therefore on fewer calories.
Awareness of sensory specific satiety is particularly relevant during this holiday season at a time when those abundant party spreads offer a cacophony of flavors. It is helpful of course because you can attempt to control the variety of the dishes you pick (somewhat!) but where I hope it will help you even more is in between, gearing up to those festive parties, and for the rest of the year when you have control over what you eat each and every day.
Sensory Specific satiety is a phenomenon I am always conscious of in creating my recipes in Cuisinicity. As you may have noticed by now, I always strive to simplify both within each food, by staying true to wholesome ingredients, free of processed flavor but also within each dish, where most of the wonderful flavors derive mostly from the combination of those wholesome foods and not too much “mixing up” of flavors. For example, it is not happenstance, and you may have noticed or even been surprised by it, that I do not ever put salt or rarely baking soda (only in my Chocolate Chip Cookies and in my Biscotti!) in my cookies or desserts or pancakes or even in my oatmeal where others feel it’s obligatory. Not only is it not necessary–it is absolutely delicious without it–it also allows me to cut down on the sugar as a consequence because less is needed to make up for the salty flavor, albeit subtle but still noted by our brain. And of course I do this for each and everyone of my dishes, savory or sweet as best I can.
And again, I cannot stress enough using this “simplify” thinking when choosing food items to stock your pantry, those that are in bottles, cans, boxes or jars on your supermarket shelf! In fact, I highly recommend you read an exposé by Pulitzer prize winner journalist Michael Moss, entitled: “The extraordinary science of addictive junk food” that will give you a reality check on how the food industry willfully engineers its products to be cravable (a euphemism for addictive), using the science of sensory-specific satiety!
My point today is this: On those days where YOU have control over what you eat…
…try to simplify both within each food, within each recipe, and within each meal!
Especially during the month of December, gearing up toward the holidays, concentrate on the simplest of preparations: Grilled veggies, seafood or poultry, ample salads (for lots of ideas on fresh simple salads, click here) with lots of fresh veggies, a little olive oil and vinegar, beans or chickpeas or lentils thrown in for protein, simple whole grains (I recommend checking out my healthy cooking basics section for exact cooking instructions to make 2 cups cooked) or any of my dishes from the Simply collection.
By putting sensory specific satiety to work for you instead of against you, you can control your weight without going hungry, and rather than count calories, you can count on pleasure from good food and good health alike. With that, I simply wish you….Bon appétit!