Almost all (98%) Australian adults report consuming discretionary choices, and these foods contribute over one third of an adult's daily energy intake.
The amount of discretionary choices consumed by Australian adults is more than double the recommended amount in the Australian Dietary Guidelines.
However, writing in the journal Appetite, researchers argued that the sensory drivers of food choices are seldom addressed in nutrition interventions.
“There are many drivers of food choice, such as convenience, health, social influences, personal values, cost and taste. The taste of food (as a colloquial term for sensory properties) is a key consideration for people in nearly all food and drink settings.”
This lead them to assess the impact of substituting discretionary foods and beverages for core foods and beverages that have a similar sensory profile by modelling the effect of the proposed substitutions on total energy and nutrient intake, serves of food groups, and the overall sensory characteristics of Australian adults’ diets.
It was hypothesized that a similar sensory profile of the diet could be achieved by substituting discretionary choices with core foods of similar sensory characteristics and that total energy intake would not change significantly as a result.
It was also thought that the modelled substitutions would result in a reduction in total saturated fat, sodium, and added sugar, and an increase in beneficial nutrients such as calcium and fibre in the diet.
They used a model featuring a dietary recall data to assess discretionary food intake and the CSIRO sensory-diet database to find suitable, and more healthy, ‘swap’ products.
“For the list of food and beverage items falling into each discretionary category, mean sensory scores (sweetness, saltiness, and fattiness) were calculated, with the highest mean value taken to represent the dominant taste for that discretionary choice category. Food and beverage items within each category were then ranked from lowest to highest based on the dominant taste, and five equal groups (or quintiles) were created. For each quintile, one core food or beverage swap was selected.”
It found that the method used to select the food and beverage swaps was able to achieve a similar sensory profile of the diet for hardness, sweetness and fatty mouthfeel, however saltiness and umami were reduced by approximately 4–7% relative to current diets.
There were also favourable changes in in macronutrient composition and micronutrient intake, with large reductions in saturated fat, added sugar, and large increases in Vitamin C, calcium and potassium.
The changes in nutrient intake can be attributed to the increases in fruit, meat, dairy and grains which were used to replace discretionary foods in the diet.
Following the substitutions, the average discretionary foods intake reduced to within the recommended intake range set out in the Australian Dietary Guidelines.
The researchers concluded: “This proof of concept study could be used to design dietary advice that considers the sensory characteristics of foods, as an influence of consumer food choice. The results also provide an alternative approach to reducing discretionary foods intake without compromising the pleasure of eating.”
“Sensory swap: Modelling the impact of swapping discretionary choices for similar tasting core foods on the energy, nutrients and sensory properties of Australian diets”
Authors: Sanju V.Prahalathanab, et al