Another possibility is that the tastants improved the flavor of bland but healthy foods such as tofu and some vegetables, resulting in healthier eating habits.
Tastants aren't commercially available, but people can use techniques of enhancing their senses of smell and taste to help them lose weight, Hirsch said.
"Sniff your food before you eat it. Chew it a lot. Choose low-calorie foods and season them," he said.
In another study to be presented at the Endocrine Society meeting, researchers found that three months of aerobic exercise decreased body fat and calorie intake in overweight and obese people. These changes were linked to increased levels of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), said the team from the University of Chile Clinical Hospital in Santiago.
BDNF's main role is to promote the growth and survival of nerve cells, but recent research has shown that BDNF also is related to obesity and metabolism.
This study included 15 overweight or obese men and women, ages 26 to 51, who did a three-month program of aerobic exercise on a treadmill and bicycle. They were told they could continue to eat their usual number of calories.
At the end of the study, the participants had decreased BMI, waist circumference, and blood pressure, and reported consuming fewer calories than at the start of the study. They also had increased levels of BDNF. The higher the concentration of BDNF, the fewer calories participants consumed and the greater the weight loss.
This suggests that BDNF acts as an appetite suppressant, the researchers said. They noted that identifying markers such as BDNF may help health care providers determine which patients will benefit from exercise.
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