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Palatability: response to nutritional need or need-free stimulation of appetite?

  • Martin R. Yeomans (a1), John E. Blundell (a2) and Micah Leshem (a3)

The traditional view of palatability was that it reflected some underlying nutritional deficit and was part of a homeostatically driven motivational system. However, this idea does not fit with the common observation that palatability can lead to short-term overconsumption. Here, we attempt to re-evaluate the basis of palatability, first by reviewing the role of salt-need both in the expression of liking for salty tastes, and paradoxically, in dissociating need from palatability, and second by examining the role of palatability in short-term control of appetite. Despite the clarity of this system in animals, however, most salt (NaCl) intake in man occurs in a need-free state. Similar conclusions can be drawn in relation to the palatability of food in general. Importantly, the neural systems underlying the hedonic system relating to palatability and homeostatic controls of eating are separate, involving distinct brain structures and neurochemicals. If palatability was a component of homeostatic control, reducing need-state should reduce palatability. However, this is not so, and if anything palatability exerts a stronger stimulatory effect on eating when sated, and over-consumption induced by palatability may contribute to obesity. Differential responsivity to palatability may be a component of the obese phenotype, perhaps through sensitisation of the neural structures related to hedonic aspects of eating. Together, these disparate data clearly indicate that palatability is not a simple reflection of need state, but acts to promote intake through a distinct hedonic system, which has inputs from a variety of other systems, including those regulating need. This conclusion leads to the possibility of novel therapies for obesity based on modulation of hedonic rather than homeostatic controls. Potential developments are discussed.

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*Corresponding author: Dr Martin R. Yeomans, fax +44 1273 678058, email
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