A S K D R . A N G E L A

Question of the Week:

Dear Dr. Angela,

I recently heard about a new product called Sensa that claims to help you lose weight and all you have to do is sprinkle “flavorings” onto all your food. The inventor seems to be a pretty legitimate source, an M.D. who is also a researcher with a dual specialization in neurology and psychiatry. Is there any truth to this claim?

Palo Alto, CA

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Dear Maria,

The exact ingredients of those little "sprinkles" in the Sensa product are not disclosed, but they are essentially purified flavor molecules. A little background first: Some people are super tasters, which means they have a heightened ability to sense flavors. Super tasters have a higher concentration of taste receptors on their tongues and they have certain taste detecting genes that non-tasters do not have.

Super tasters can sense bitter, fatty, salty and sweet better than non-tasters. As a result, they are more satisfied from the foods they eat and they eat less overall. On the other hand, some non-tasters seem to eat more of everything (sweet, salty, bitter, fatty) because they don’t sense these flavors as well. Studies show super tasters are on average 20% thinner than non-tasters.

The idea is that if you are a non-taster adding these flavorings will enhance your taste perception and lead to decreased food intake.

Many factors influence food intake in addition to one's ability to perceive taste: cultural background, learned habits and preferences, food availability and financial situation, emotional factors, how quickly you eat, whether you tend to eat until you’re too full, the amount of energy you exert, your metabolic phenotype, your metabolic status, your genetic predispositions, etc.

If you overeat or indulge in calorie-rich, sweet, salty, fatty foods more often than you should for your current energy expenditure levels you are probably putting on some extra weight. To lose weight you can eat less of those calorie-dense foods, replace them with less calorie-dense foods like fresh fruits and salads, and/or exercise more.

There are also many natural ways to increase the tastiness of food; one is culinary herbs and spices. Herbs and spices like rosemary, oregano, cinnamon, and cumin are also naturally anti-carcinogenic, rich in anti-oxidants, and rich in micronutrients like zinc and magnesium.

So instead of artificially boosting the flavor of your foods with chemically purified flavor crystals, try adding some herbs and spices to your meals. If you do not cook at home very often, you are on the road a lot and have to eat bland food, then trying out the Sensa product may not be a bad idea for you. Just remember that in the end there are no magic fixes. The big "secret" of these fancy flavor crystals is still simply that you are losing weight by eating fewer calories.

Dr. Angela