NPR : News

Finding New Tricks To Get More Satisfaction Out Of Low-Fat Foods

A thick and creamy shake sounds deliciously satisfying, and adding that kind of "mouth feel" to low-fat foods has become a multi-billion-dollar business. But are we really fooled?

Some attempts to get people to eat less of some kinds of thick, low-calorie foods have backfired. People actually ate more when their bodies realized that what appeared to be a high-calorie treat was not.

So scientists have been trying to figure out just what it is that makes us feel satisfied. Is it the thick? The creamy? Or just the calories? It's complicated.

Even a subtle increase in texture can do the trick, according to new research out of the University of Sussex in England. They found that volunteers were able to detect even slight differences in the thickness and creaminess of a yogurt drink with different levels of a thickener, tara gum. It's derived from the pods of trees native to the Peruvian Andes, and is added to ice cream and other foods to make them thicker and creamier.

The volunteers said both thickness and creaminess made the drinks more filling. But when it came to keeping people from getting hungry, they said only the sensation of thickness matters.

Confused? We here at The Salt were, too. So we asked Kari McCrickerd, the lead author of the study, what it means.

The experience of eating has two key stages, she says – satiation and satiety.

Satiation is that feeling of becoming full while eating, until it's time to say "no more."

Satiety, on the other hand, is "how long to we wait to eat again and how much do we eat at the next meal", McCrickerd says in an email. They are, she added, two subtly different, yet related experiences. Only the drinks that seemed thick offered the sensation of satiety.

People may be more sensitive to thickness, she says, because it's less subtle than creaminess, and we have more experience with filling up on thick foods. Hello, mashed potatoes! Creaminess may not be a strong enough signal to convey that message alone. The results were published online in the journal Flavour.

So eaters in search of satiety may want to consider thickness as a source of satisfaction.

Wonder what other gums are thickening up your food? NPR's Eliza Barclay gave the lowdown, from alginates to Xanthan gum.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit


'Not Without My Daughter' Subject Grows Up, Tells Her Own Story

"Not Without My Daughter" told the story of an American mother and daughter fleeing Iran. Now that young girl is telling her own story in her memoir, "My Name is Mahtob."

Internet Food Culture Gives Rise To New 'Eatymology'

Internet food culture has brought us new words for nearly every gastronomical condition. The author of "Eatymology," parodist Josh Friedland, discusses "brogurt" with NPR's Rachel Martin.

Proposed Climate Change Rules At Odds With U.S. Opponents

President Obama says the U.S. must lead the charge to reduce burning of fossil fuels. But American lawmakers are divided on limiting carbon emissions and opponents say they'll challenge any new rules.

Payoffs For Prediction: Could Markets Help Identify Terrorism Risk?

In a terror prediction market, people would bet real money on the likelihood of attacks. NPR's Scott Simon speaks with Stephen Carter about whether such a market could predict — and deter — attacks.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.