Using mice in a series of experiments, scientists are trying to determine whether taste is driving unhealthy overeating. Test findings from Monell Chemical Sense Center in Philadelphia suggest that desirable taste in and of itself does not lead to weight gain.

“Most people think that good-tasting food causes obesity, but that is not the case. Good taste determines what we choose to eat, but not how much we eat over the long-term,” said study senior author Michael Tordoff, PhD, a physiological psychologist at Monell.

Are tasty foods addictive?

Experts at Monell point to longstanding research that when rodents eat a variety of tasty foods, such as chocolate chip cookies, potato chips and sweetened condensed milk, they avidly overeat the good-tasting foods and become obese. A 2010 study, for example, likened rats’ lust for tasty, high-fat treats to drug addictions — they found it hard to quit even when given electric shocks. These addictive foods triggered the release of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter in the brain, which can reinforce habitual behavior.

Authors of the Monell study, which was released in December, say that no study has ever separated the positive sensory qualities of the appetizing foods from their high-sugar and fat content. Consequently, it’s impossible to know if the taste was actually driving the overeating.

'If a food is good-tasting, it must be bad for you'

That led Tordoff and colleagues to design a series of experiments in which they gave mice food containing oils and zero-calorie sweeteners. One group of mice had a choice between a cup of plain rodent chow and a cup of chow mixed with sweet sucralose, and another group of mice had a choice between plain food and oily food. Almost all mice ignored the plain chow.

Next, new groups of mice received one of the three diets for six weeks: one group was fed plain chow, one group was fed chow with added sucralose, and one group was fed chow with added mineral oil. In the end, the groups fed the sweet or oil chow were no heavier or fatter than the animals that were eating plain food.

In another experiment, researchers fed mice a high-fat diet that is known to make mice obese. Mice fed this high-fat diet sweetened with sucralose got no fatter than those who got the plain version.

“Even though we gave mice delicious diets over a prolonged period, they did not gain excess weight. People say that ‘if a food is good-tasting, it must be bad for you,’” Tordoff said, “but our findings suggest this is not the case. It should be possible to create foods that are both healthy and good-tasting.”

Of course, here at Delicious Living, we’ve always known that healthy food can be delicious! And, of course, what’s considered good-tasting to some isn’t always appealing to others. What do you consider to be some of the most delicious AND nutritious foods you eat in your home? Let us know in the comments section!