We’ve often pointed out that protein is key, not only does it help us build muscle, but it also keeps us more satisfied than other foods. I add whey protein powder to my oatmeal every morning.
A new article in Wired may help explain why.
It turns out that the tongue is not the only source of pleasure when it comes to food. In addition to conventional, tongue-based taste there is another source of sensory delight farther down in the gut that responds to calorically dense food. This second pathway “responds not to the nuances of flavor but to the brute intake of energy.”
An experiment done with mice who could not taste umami–the fifth taste sensation, in addition to sweet, sour, bitter, and salty, found largely in meats and cheeses–found that the mice still preferred umami-rich foods over non-umami alternatives. This is because the mice “were enjoying the sensation of protein via their digestive tract, which is why they kept on coming back to the umami water they couldn’t even taste.”
Protein’s unique ability to satisfy is perfectly logical:
We love the flavor of denatured protein, because, being protein and water ourselves, we need it. Our body produces over 40 grams of glutamate a day, so we constantly crave an amino acid refill. In fact, we are trained from birth to savor umami: breast milk has ten times more glutamate than cow milk.
Hence, protein remains key. Not only is it essential for the functioning of the body, but it’s the food that best satisfies that alternative source of culinary pleasure and leaves us feeling satisfied.