Why do we still have room for dessert?

Do you always have room for dessert? There's a scientific reason for that — it's called sensory-specific satiety.

I hope you saved room for dessert. What is that supposed to mean?

Generally, after a big meal, you feel full. But why do you always have room for dessert?

There’s a scientific reason behind it called sensory-specific satiety

“So, the more you eat foods that you really like at the beginning of the meal, after a while, you'll start to find it less pleasant. And that means that the reward value of that food, the hedonic assessment of that food, is less pleasant. And then if someone comes along and offers you a different food, perhaps a dessert, then you will have room for dessert because you may have switched off of the hedonic assessment of the savory foods.”, Marion Hetherington, a psychology professor at the University of Leeds, explains.

Hetherington has been researching on human ingestive behavior

“And as omnivores, we have to eat a variety of foods. So, at one level, when one food is consumed during a meal, we switch off of that food and we start to seek and search for other foods. So, at one level, sensory-specific satiety is considered to be a driver of variety to ensure that omnivores eat a lot of different foods.”, she tells Brut.

Counterproductive and overconsumption

But our sensory-specific satiety can be counterproductive and lead to overconsumption, as Barbara Rolls, a professor of nutritional sciences at Penn State University, has shown in her studies. “The scientific studies conducted by Barbara Rolls shows very clearly that if you feed someone a simple plain food as a first course and then offer a second course, they will eat modestly. But if you have one course followed by a different course, followed by another course, or you have access to a variety of foods at one sitting, then this will encourage overconsumption.”, Hetherington elaborates.

How this affects us in today’s society

“In today's society, we have so much access to very cheap foods. We have foods delivered to our door. And there's now a mismatch between the amount of energy that we need to expand to get those foods. We're not hunting and gathering anymore. So, there's definitely a sense in which our sensory specific satiety and drive for variety might actually be counterproductive in such an obesogenic environment. The solution is to eat simply and modestly, and it's good to eat a variety but smaller portion sizes and to have a strategy and a plan in mind.”, she concludes.