The projects in the lab are focused on making healthy foods more palatable and on decreasing the intake of energy-dense food.
Current eating habits have led to a worldwide obesity epidemic. Obesity has been attributed to many causes and our preferences for high-fat, high-carbohydrate foods are among those. In omnivores, such as rats and humans, most food preferences are produced by experience. This research aims to understand the learning processes that produce conditioned food preferences. The research concerns how flavors come to be preferred by being associated with already preferred flavors (i.e., sweet) or with nutrients (i.e., calories). We are also concerned with whether merely being exposed to foods increases preference for them and whether subjects learn about taste (i.e., salty, sour, bitter, sweet) and odor stimuli (i.e., flavor extracts) by the same learning processes. These types of learning processes may give insight into the reason why certain foods are more palatable than others which may directly lead to increased energy intake. We are also currently undertaking projects aimed at understanding how foods presented in different ways can affect food intake. In addition, we are exploring the various factors that make vegetables more palatable.
Understanding how food preferences are learned can lead to strategies aimed at changing food preferences towards more healthy foods, which could prevent obesity, diabetes and other health problems related to types of food consumed. Similarly, understanding how food aversions are learned can assist in the development of behavioral modification strategies aimed at eliminating food aversions to healthy and beneficial foods.