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Sensa: Get a whiff of this diet

June 16, 2008 |  4:03 pm

Sprinkling calorie-free flavorings on foods can help people feel full faster and lose weight, according to a study presented today at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society in San Francisco. The research was performed by a neurologist who was intrigued by the fact that people who lose their sense of smell and taste from severe head injuries often gain weight rapidly.

Dr. Alan Hirsch, director of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, created crystals he calls tastants to stimulate the sense of taste and enhance a food's flavor. In the study, the salt-free tastants were labeled as savory or sweet but produced such flavors as cheddar cheese, onion, horseradish, ranch dressing, cocoa, banana, strawberry, malt and other flavors. He asked 1,436 overweight or obese men to sprinkle the tastants on all their food for six months but not to otherwise alter their diet or exercise habits. At the end of six months, those who had stuck with the tastants lost an average of 30.5 pounds or about 15% of their body weight. A control group of 100 people who used non-flavored crystals that looked like tastants lost an average of 2 pounds over six months.

Hirsch thinks the flavorings work by improving the taste of bland but healthful foods, such as tofu and vegetables. But he also believes that powerful tastes and smells send messages to the brain that trigger satiety. The tastants made people feel full faster and therefore eat less.

"How can you feel full faster? That is what this study looked at," said Hirsch in a news conference this morning. "But this uses natural physiology. The more they liked the taste, the more they used it and the more weight they lost."

Hirsch is gearing up to sell his product, called Sensa. A one-month supply of flavorings cost $53. If the commercial product smells fishy to you, you can still test the smell-more-eat-less concept. Hirsch says to eat low-calorie foods with lots of seasonings, sniff your food before you eat it and then chew it a lot.

- Shari Roan

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