I don’t know about you, but no matter how full I am from dinner, I can always find room for dessert. It doesn’t matter if I’ve just had a massive three-course meal and I can barely move or button my pants—if there’s cake on the go, I’m game. Turns out, there’s a scientific reason behind dessert belly and it’s actually pretty interesting.
- “Dessert stomach” is a real thing. Russell Keast, a professor in sensory and food science and the director of the Centre for Advanced Sensory Science at Deakin University, has discovered that “dessert stomach,” also known as sensory-specific satiety, is a real biological response. It’s the feeling we have of eating one specific food to fullness, leading our senses to signal our brains that we’ve had enough and we’re full.
- So how can we still eat dessert? “Part of the response is actually sensory boredom — the food that excited us with promise of flavor delights is now boring. We are getting satiated, but combine this with the fact that our flavor sensing system is overloaded with the food’s flavor helps us stop eating,” Keast explained to Huffington Post Australia. “Then you present a dessert, a new flavor experience, a different profile to what we are bored with. It may look and smell good and (from experience) we know sweet is appealing. No more boredom with the food and the anticipation creates appetite, hence the dessert stomach.”
- Basically, “real food” is boring and dessert is the best. The general gist of Keast’s research is that our brains and our stomachs are excited by the prospect of something sugary and delicious and basically override that fullness feeling, allowing us to have room for a treat. “Satiety signals are overridden by the pleasing anticipation of the new food. If the same food was presented, the desire to consume more of the same is not present,” Keast said.
- Keast put his hypothesis to the test. To test out his idea, Keast fed study participants 300ml of a strawberry milkshake that they had to consume within two minutes. Then Keast offered the same participants 700ml more and told them to have as much as they’d like, measuring the amounts consumed. On the second trip, they followed the same procedure but after the initial 300ml of strawberry milkshake, they offered 700 ml of chocolate milkshake. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the participants consumed way more the second time around. “The difference between the volume of chocolate milkshake and strawberry milkshake consumed is a measure of SSS. The new flavor is invariably consumed significantly more than the same flavor,” Keast said.
- There is an exception to this rule, of course. Keast points out that this isn’t just about offering a new food – it also has to be tasty. If you eat dinner and then someone offers you a plate of crudite, you’re unlikely to want to “indulge” on them.
- Plus, we’re hard-wired to eat past fullness. Evolutionarily speaking. we’re hard-wired to eat what we can since there was a time when food was scarce and we didn’t know when our next meal would come. This is a problem in modern times, however, since the next meal is just around the corner and we often end up overindulging. When chocolate cake is on offer, however, who could blame us?