Do we eat less food if it has a complex texture? There are many factors contributing to a worldwide obesity epidemic, which has seen global obesity nearly triple over four decades a point where nearly 40 per cent of adults were overweight and 13 per cent were obese.
In New Zealand, one of the world's fattest nations, almost one in three adults were obese and a further 35 per cent were overweight, according to the latest Ministry of Health statistics.
A big part of the puzzle is why people continued to eat, or eat between meals, when they were full. Feeling full could be heightened by spending more time and effort on chewing food. However, recently it had also been shown that the sense of feeling full could be accelerated by food texture - and in particular, complex textures.
Complex textures might be a combination of many sensations, such as crunchy, creamy, and crispy like a Ferrero Rocher chocolate.
Alternatively, they may be just a few textures sensed with high intensity, like a tooth-breakingly-hard Gingernut biscuit.
Yet the mechanisms that connected textural complexity with the feeling of fullness were not well understood.
University of Auckland researchers Professor Bryony James, Associate Professor Michael Hautus and Dr Nicholas Gant aim to fill this crucial knowledge gap by finding whether the increased effort required to chew texturally complex foods resulted in a cascade of sensory inputs to the brain, stimulating signals to the gut.
Their $945,000 study would draw on an interdisciplinary approach, using functional MRI to investigate the response of the human brain to different food textures, and linking these neural responses to food material properties and to perceptions of texture.
This hallmark study would directly connect the responses of our mouth, brain and gut to the physical properties of the food we eat. Ultimately, the research stood to contribute to a better understanding of appetite and eating - and enable better insight into how to combat the rising obesity epidemic.
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