No-Calorie Seasonings Help Lose Weight

'Sprinkle Diet' Study Suggests New Ways to Let Dieters to Feel Full More Quickly

From the WebMD Archives

June 16, 2008 -- Call it the "sprinkle" diet or the flavor-for-free diet.

If you sprinkle no-calorie seasonings and sweeteners on your foods, you will feel full faster, cut down on food consumption, and lose more weight than people who don't flavor their foods that way, according to a new study.

"The flavors may make people focus on the sensory characteristics of food -- smell and taste," says Alan Hirsch, MD, a Chicago neurologist and psychiatrist who is due to present the study findings this week at ENDO 08, the Endocrine Society's annual meeting in San Francisco.

In his study, Hirsch found that overweight or obese people who used the zero-calorie flavorings lost an average of 30.5 pounds in six months, while those who didn't use them lost just 2 pounds. No dietary restrictions were given, although those in the study who were already on a diet and exercise program were allowed to continue.

Using the flavorings '"can actually cause a change in eating habits and behavior," says Hirsch. Sprinkling the calorie-free flavorings, he speculates, may make some healthy foods such as vegetables more palatable, making it easier to eat more of them.

The Sprinkle Diet: Feeling Full Faster

Hirsch, who is the founder of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, compared the weight loss between 1,436 participants who used the flavorings and a control group of 100 participants who did not use them. Participants were ages 19 to 55.

At the study start, Hirsch noted participants' weight and body mass index (BMI, which relates height to weight). At the start, participants had an average weight of 208 pounds and an average BMI of 34, considered obese.

Those using the flavorings were given four small bottles each week and told they could use them liberally. They could choose savory or sweet, although they didn't know the exact flavor. The savory choices, all salt-free, included cheddar cheese, onion, horseradish, ranch dressing, taco, and parmesan. Sweet choices included cocoa, spearmint, banana, strawberry, raspberry, and malt.

The concept? Enhancing the perceived flavor of the food makes you feel fuller faster and tells your brain to stop eating.

Continued

The Sprinkle Diet: Men vs. Women

At the end of the six months, the flavorings group lost an average of 15% of their initial body weight.

Of those in the flavorings group, "men lost it more quickly and women initially lost it slower," he says. "Postmenopausal women tended to lose as the men did."

''The more they liked the taste [of the seasoning or sweetener selected] the more they used it and the more weight they lost," Hirsch says.

"We don't know what happens beyond the six months," he says. "Some [participants] have used them for over a year and sustain or continue their weight loss, but that is anecdotal."

Also unknown, he says, is if the flavorings will work as well in those who are overweight but not obese.

While those in the study lost an average of nearly 15% of their body weight, the loss might be less in those who have less to lose, he says.

The sprinkle diet may not work for those who have lost their sense of smell, he says.

The Sprinkle Diet: Enjoying Food

Those in the study who used the flavorings may simply have enjoyed their food more, says Connie Diekman, RD, director of university nutrition for Washington University in St. Louis, who reviewed the study for WebMD.

"We typically have said that enjoyment is a key component to know when to stop eating," says Diekman, former president of the American Dietetic Association. The flavoring may simply have made the foods more enjoyable. "When you eat foods that trigger those senses [taste and smell] the brain begins to think in terms of 'I'm good,' 'I'm happy,' 'Stop eating.'"

"The magic may not be in the flavorings but in the enjoyment of the food," she says.

However, she cautions, there is another camp of weight loss research that has found the more diversity of food and flavor available, the more people tend to eat. So having many flavors available may prove tempting.

Hirsch says he has launched a line of calorie-free flavorings based on his study results. Already on the market are calorie-free sweeteners and low or no-calories spices.

Or, he says, you can focus on increasing the sensory characteristics of food -- smell and taste -- by simple measures yourself, such as sniffing your food before you eat it.

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on June 16, 2008

Sources

SOURCES:

Alan Hirsch, MD, founder and neurologic director, Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, Chicago.

ENDO 08, 90th annual meeting of The Endocrine Society, San Francisco, June 15-18, 2008.

Connie Diekman, RD, director of university nutrition, Washington University, St. Louis.

© 2008 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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