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The Healthy Food Guide team believe that making small diet and lifestyle changes brings the best long-term gains. We look at the science behind the headlines and promote a balanced way of eating.

Do you ever reach for a third helping of broccoli or find yourself craving steamed fish mid-afternoon?

 

The sad truth is that it’s more likely to be fat-packed foods, such as cakes, chocolate and crisps, that get us salivating. But instead of being in a constant battle with our taste buds, it’s worth looking at why foods containing fat have such a hold over us. Scientists are constantly researching in this area in a bid to understand the obesity crisis, and the good news is they’ve discovered several key reasons – which may, at last, help us get out of the fat trap.

Why we chew the fat

The evolutionary explanation is that the presence of fat in the mouth tells our brain we have a calorie-rich food going down and that we’d better stock up, because we never know when this big steak (or tub of ice cream or family-size bag of crisps) will come our way again.

‘There certainly seems to be an instinctive desire to consume fat, which probably stems from our caveman days when food was often in short supply,’ says HFG nutrition consultant Juliette Kellow. ‘Now that food is plentiful, though, this unconscious drive to seek out fat for survival is unnecessary and contributes to unwanted weight gain.’

But evolutionary traits aren’t the whole picture. We reach for fat for various other reasons, too. The diet we ate as a child may have conditioned us to eat a lot of fatty foods, we may spend a lot of time with people who constantly eat these sorts of foods, or it may just be that, for you (as for many others), fat equals fun.

‘Without doubt, fats such as oil, cream and butter have a pleasing mouthfeel,’ explains Juliette. ‘And cooking with fatty ingredients like these can make it even more pleasurable.’ When you cook, the heat drives out the food’s moisture, helping flavoursconcentrate in the fat. When that fat breaks down in the mouth, it slowly coats the tongue, releasing those delicious flavours that tantalise the taste buds. This helps explain why fat-free and low-fat versions of favourite foods often lack the depth of flavour of regular ones – the taste doesn’t seem to last as long in the mouth.

Fat also enhances the texture of foods, making crisps crunchy and giving chocolate its satisfying solidity. ‘We love the feeling of food changing from one pleasant consistency to another in our mouth,’ says Juliette. ‘When those crisps dissolve on the tongue, or chocolate melts in the mouth, it’s a gratifyingly sensory, often sensual, experience.’

Find out 5 ways fat leads us astray 

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Find out how to train your taste buds

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*Weight-loss results will vary and are down to your individual circumstances and the amount of weight you have to lose.