Taste but not smell sensitivities are linked to dietary macronutrient composition

Appetite. 2023 Feb 1;181:106385. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2022.106385. Epub 2022 Nov 25.


Macronutrient intake and composition of diets (i.e., carbohydrate, protein, and fat) can vary substantially across individuals. Chemosensory functions are hypothesised to play a key role in modulating nutrient choices and intake. The present study tests links between individual gustatory or olfactory supra-threshold sensitivities and dietary macronutrient intake. A total of 98 European males (N = 81 for final analyses; age: 20-40 yo; BMI: 18.9-48.1 kg∙m-2) were tested for supra-threshold sensitivities (d') to 3-gustatory (i.e., Sucrose, MSG, Dairy fat) and 3-olfactory stimuli (i.e., Vanillin, Methional, Maltol/Furaneol), followed by a 4-day weighed Food Record to give measures of macronutrient intake (kJ) and composition (%). With multivariate analyses (i.e., K-mean clustering, PCA, and Hierarchical Regression), gustatory and olfactory d' were compared across groups of individuals with distinct macronutrient composition or intake. Significant differences in gustatory d' were found across the clusters based on macronutrient composition (p < 0.05), but not for clusters based on intake. Hierarchical regressions suggested that gustatory d' played a significant role in predicting dietary carbohydrate composition and intake, with one-unit d' increase predicting reduction of 3%-4.66% (R2 = 0.21, F(5,75) = 5.38, p = 0.001). Moreover, every one-unit increase in d' to MSG increased protein composition by 3.45% (R2 = 0.10, F(5,75) = 2.83, p = 0.022) and intake by 392 kJ (R2 = 0.08, F(5,75) = 2.41, p = 0.044). By contrast, olfactory d' showed little association to macronutrient composition or intake (p > 0.05). Overall, we present intriguing new evidence that gustatory, but not olfactory, sensitivities are linked to dietary macronutrient composition, with relatively little effect on actual intake. These findings highlight possible action of a sensory-mediated mechanism guiding food choices.

Keywords: Discriminability; Gustation; Macronutrient intake; Obesity; Olfaction; Sensitivity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Diet*
  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Dietary Fats
  • Dietary Proteins
  • Energy Intake
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nutrients
  • Smell
  • Taste*
  • Young Adult


  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Dietary Fats
  • Dietary Proteins