Chemosensory Abilities in Consumers of a Western-Style Diet

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People vary in their habitual diet and also in their chemosensory abilities. In this study, we examined whether consumption of a Western-style diet, rich in saturated fat and added sugar, is associated with either poorer or different patterns of chemosensory perception, relative to people who consume a healthier diet. Participants were selected based on a food frequency questionnaire, which established whether they were likely to consume a diet either higher or lower in saturated fat and added sugar. Eighty-seven participants were tested for olfactory ability (threshold, discrimination, and identification), gustatory ability (PROP sensitivity, taste intensity, quality, and hedonics), and flavor processing (using dairy fat-sugar-odor mixtures). A Western-style diet was associated with poorer odor identification ability, greater PROP sensitivity, poorer fat discrimination, different patterns of sweetness taste enhancement, and hedonic differences in taste and flavor perception. No differences were evident for odor discrimination or threshold, in perception of taste intensity/quality (excluding PROP) or the ability of fats to affect flavor perception. The significant relationships were of small to moderate effect size, and would be expected to work against consuming a healthier diet. The discussion focuses on whether these diet-related differences precede adoption of a Western-style diet and/or are a consequence of it.

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