Why Bad Fat Tastes Good

By: Ron Lagerquist

“Research has shown that when we taste fat, it stimulates an immediate rise in blood fat levels. Humans can taste fat and we love it.”

There is a gourmet potato chip brand available in every Canadian corner store: Miss Vickie’s Potato Chips: handpicked potatoes, kettle cooked in fresh peanut oil to a brittle brown. My favorite flavor is Salt and Vinegar. The first bite will tell you these chips have a clear sense of themselves: no pretense of trying to disguise grease in health, they are well-dressed junk food and proud of it. Just writing about them stimulates phantom emotions of crispy crunching away the blues. I reserved indulgence to special occasions like my sporadic brushes with depression. I would buy a small bag and float away somewhere warm and safe. It should be said here that, extraordinary flavor aside, this is the greasiest thing you could shove into your mouth, and five chips is four too many. So greasy, you could easily enjoy eating the chic chip bag it came in.

My relationship with Miss Vickie’s chips was always complicated. About ten minutes after voracious indulgence, that familiar sick feeling would hit, my safe place soddened by emptiness. The good feeling simply didn’t last, so stupid me, back to the store for another little bag of Miss Vickie’s.

Addiction reduces the best of us to a loaf of bread. Great minds and bodies have been destroyed chasing after a craving, food or otherwise.

Of the three macronutrients, fat is my nemesis, my go-to food. It took some time to break the bad associations with fat and discover that all fats are not created equal; in fact, good fats can be a vital, enjoyable part of a healthy diet.

So why do humans find fatty foods irresistible? To answer that, I need to take another honest look at myself. I love hiking, canoeing, windy days and grocery shopping. When you walk in my favorite local Canadian grocery store you will find a fairly sizable health food section consisting of a group of aisles besieged by a sea of processed foods. Conscientious shoppers navigate to this place, and like myself, pick up a package of organic, whole foods, read the ingredients and either throw it into their cart or place it back onto the shelf. In this area of the store, the decision to buy is more about price than ingredients.

The higher price tags are found on products that are trying to imitate something unhealthy, like tofu hot dogs or cheeseless cheeses. Some of these products pull it off, but most fail so miserably I wonder how they ever made it to the shelves. For example, have you ever tried a fat-free, baked potato chip? There are numerous companies that have attempted to market a palatable fat-free potato chip, and I have eagerly tried them all in hopes of finding a guiltless crunchy snack to accompany our Friday night movie. Aside from the variety of impressive promises, all were variations of crispy cardboard in a bag. Guilt is a dish best served greasy.

Popcorn without the butter, fat-free yogurt, reduced-fat margarine: in spite of the chemical flavorists’ best attempts, none of these taste as good as the real deal. Why does the generous addition of fat increase eating pleasure?

Until recently, scientists agreed that there were only four basic tastes our mouths could detect: sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Olfactory sense fills in the finer nuances of food. It was never believed that fat had a taste. Our love for fat was attributed to its ability to create that pleasurable “mouth feel” and fat’s ability to carry flavors to awaiting taste buds. Then just recently, R.D. Mattes released new studies from Purdue University that are sure to result in the food industry reconsidering how to manufacture better-tasting fat-free junk food. Among other things, this research has shown that when we taste fat, it stimulates an immediate rise in blood fat levels. Humans can taste fat and we love it. So not only does fat increase mouth feel and help enhance flavor, there is a physiological response to the taste of fat. Who can blame us for compulsively deep frying our Snickers bar?

Related Article: Transformed Fatty Acids

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