Smoking May Dull Taste Perception in Obese Women


Obese women who smoke may not be able to fully perceive creaminess and sweetness, according to a study published in Obesity.

Obese women smokers may have a dulled ability to taste fats and sweets, according to research published in the April issue of Obesity.

M. Yanina Pepino, PhD, and colleagues at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis studied 4 groups of women aged 21-41 years: obese smokers, obese non-smokers, smokers of normal weight, and non-smokers of normal weights. The women abstained from smoking cigarettes (if applicable) and eating for 12 hours prior to the study, verified by glucose and carbon monoxide tests.

“Obese people often crave high-fat foods,” Pepino said in a press release. “Our findings suggest that having this intense craving but not perceiving fat and sweetness in food may lead these women to eat more. Since smoking and obesity are risk factors for cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, the additional burden of craving more fats and sugars, while not fully tasting them, could be detrimental to health.”

Participants were fed a standard breakfast of a protein bar and orange juice and asked to complete a series of questionnaires. Then they were trained on the Labeled Magnitude Scale (gLMS) with the top rating described as the “strongest imaginable” sensation. The women used the gLMS scale to rate overall flavor perceptions of 4 different Jell-O puddings that differed in fat content. The puddings were tasted both with and without nose clips, which could eliminated retronasal perceived volatiles. They tasted each sample for 5 seconds without swallowing.

Researchers ensured the differences in taste and texture perceptions by testing the women’s ratings of the weight of 6 opaque, sand-filled jars (225, 380, 558, 713, 870, and 999 g). There were no differences among the perception of heaviness, eliminating the need to standardize the gLMS testing across all subjects.

Relative to all groups, obese smokers rated all puddings as less creamy and less sweet. All puddings were rated sweeter when women were not wearing nose clips. Fat-free pudding was rated less pleasant than pudding with fat. Smokers who wore nose clips rated pleasantness of puddings lower than women who had never smoked.

“The ability to perceive fat and sweetness and to derive pleasure from foods is particularly compromised in obese women who smoke, which could contribute to excess fat intake in this population already at high risk for cardiovascular and metabolic disease,” the authors wrote.“Although retronasal olfaction affects perception of sweetness in smokers, it appears not to contribute to blunted flavor perception observed in obese smokers. Smoking, regardless of body mass index, is associated with increased reported cravings and frequency of consumption of high-fat foods and with higher waist-to hip ratios, both of which are independent health risk factors and predictors of mortality. These findings contribute to the growing body of evidence that challenges the perception that smoking can help a person to maintain a ‘healthy’ weight, because alterations in body fat distribution and eating a high-fat diet may actually increase risk of disease.”

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