For the study, researchers from the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Health and Wellness Center served 150 people three different versions of the same meatloaf meal. The first time, it was full-fat, the second it was reduced-fat, and the third it was reduced-fat but seasoned with onion powder, oregano, paprika, and garlic powder. Although the third meal contained about 35 percent fewer calories than the first, the participants said they liked it just as much as the full-fat version.
While we’ve evolved to prefer the taste of high-fat foods (in prehistoric times when food was scarce, we needed all the calories we could get), spices make foods taste just as good because they add complexity and depth to the flavor, says study author John Peters, PhD, chief of strategy and innovation at the school’s Anschutz Health and Wellness Center. “It creates an entirely different flavor profile that apparently people like,” he says.
Full disclosure: This research was funded in part by the McCormick Science Institute, which is backed by the spice manufacturer McCormick & Company, Inc. But the study methods and results are legitimate–and substituting spices for fat can be a useful trick, especially if you’re watching your waistline.