Food lovers have always said so, and now there is proof: healthy food is not as flavoursome as an unhealthy diet. This may explain why people find it so difficult to stick to healthy eating habits, says Astrid van Langeveld, who graduated with a PhD in Human Nutrition on 29 August.
Van Langeveld did research on the role of flavour in Dutch eating habits. A trained tasting panel assessed nearly 500 foodstuffs for the fattiness sensation they provided and the essential tastes present: sweet, sour, bitter, savoury and umami. Then the researchers compared these data with information about the eating habits of the Dutch. This gave them some insight into the tastes of the food people eat, whether this changes with age, and how it relates to people’s calorie consumption.
Van Langeveld compared the taste pattern of the popular paleo diet and recommended diets such as the Dutch equivalent of the Food Pyramid with the tastes in the current average diet in the Netherlands. In taste terms, the paleo diet comes closer to this than the recommended diets. According to Van Langeveld, that is probably because the paleo diet does not contain any milk or grain, which are neutral in taste, but does contain a lot of savoury and umami tastes and fats from meat and fish.
‘The healthy, recommended diets contain relatively little sugar, salt and saturated fats, and are therefore less strongly flavoured,’ says Van Langeveld. ‘You could perhaps make it more appealing to stick to that kind of diet by adding flavour in other ways, using herbs and spices, for instance. This is not that easy for everybody, though.’
Langeveld also found out that people with overweight get relatively more calories from savoury food than those whose weight is normal. ‘People often think that overweight people eat more sweet stuff, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.