Eating with your ears wide open

Foods that need thorough chewing have a reputation for controlling hunger better. These foods stay longer in your mouth, and you get more eating experience from them, compared to softer foods.

A new study by Ryan Elder and Gina Mohr suggests it may not just be the texture of these foods that matters; maybe the sound that chewy, crunchy foods produce acts as a sixth flavor that affects our appetite and sense of fullness.

The sound of food is a neglected field. It’s been shown that everything in the food environment matters: the size of the dish, the ambient light, the smell in the room and the color of the package all affect how much people eat. Likewise, the ambient sound and music in a restaurant have been found to affect how quickly or slowly one eats, as well as diners’ mood and enjoyment of food. Although we know that the crispness of a potato chip makes us think it’s fresh – maybe because many fruits and vegetables are fresh when crisp – food’s sound influence on intake had not been studied, according to the authors.

Masking the sound of eating affects how much you eat

In the new paper in Food Quality and Preference, the authors showed, across several different studies, that paying attention to the sound of food chewed reduced food intake. In one of the studies 71 students were given a bowl of pretzels, and told to eat at least one, and then as many as they wish. Through headphones, they were played either loud or quiet white noise – the loud ambient noise masking the sound of their chewing. Those who listened to loud noise consumed about 50 percent more pretzels. In another experiment pita chips were advertised to 156 students with either their sound effects emphasized: “the crunch you crave”; “crispy sound to each bite”, or their taste highlighted: “the taste you crave…delicious flavor of each bite.” The participants ate significantly fewer (about 20 percent less) chips when the food sound was emphasized.

Now, imagine yourself eating popcorn in a movie theatre, watching a quiet dialogue passage, rather than a loud action scene. Are you aware of your munching sounds? Do you think it might affect how much you’d eat? This study suggests that mindfulness of food sounds can be a tool in curbing overconsumption.

We know that foods’ appearance affects how much we eat. The way food sounds might provide cues as well. You wouldn’t want to miss on the smell of food, and the authors urge us not to miss the sensory input of foods’ sound.

Here are a few suggestions:

Choose healthy crunchy foods: this study used pretzels, cookies and pita chips, but many fruits and vegetables are known for their crunch. Honeycrisp apples, carrots and celery sticks each have unique crunchy sounds – their sound effects can be an added bonus.

Reduce ambient noise: Loud music, earbuds and background TV all mask the sound of eating. These distractions might block our ability to pay attention to food and thus monitor our ideal intake.

Pay attention to sound: Noticing foods’ origin, preparation and characteristics enhances the experience, even changes its flavor, and can help you be satisfied with smaller portions. Sound is another aspect of food that can be savored and appreciated.

Dr. Ayala

Sound is another aspect of food that can be savored and appreciated