Taste of Modern Diets: The Impact of Food Processing on Nutrient Sensing and Dietary Energy Intake

Pey Sze Teo, Rachel Tso, Rob M. van Dam, Ciarán G. Forde*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Both fresh and processed foods are available in the modern food environment where taste can signal presence of nutrients. However, whether these taste-nutrient relationships are maintained across different degrees of food processing is not well understood, and less is known about the relative contribution of different taste qualities to population energy intakes. OBJECTIVES: To investigate the association between perceived intensity of 6 taste modalities and a food's nutrient content in the context of food processing and to further examine the relative contribution of different taste clusters to total energy intakes, stratified by weight status. METHODS: Diet and lifestyle data from the Singapore Multi-Ethnic Cohort Phase 2 (N = 7011; aged 21-75 y) were collected through interviewer-administrated questionnaires. Taste and nutrient profiles for each of the 269 Singaporean foods were derived using a published taste database and food composition table. Each food was then categorized into the NOVA food-processing classification (unprocessed, processed, ultra-processed) to compare the strength of taste-nutrient relationships. Multivariable-adjusted models were used to examine associations between relative consumption of foods from different taste clusters and processing categories, energy intake, and BMI (in kg/m2) within a population cohort. RESULTS: Sweet taste and mono- and disaccharide content of foods were significantly associated across all processing categories, although this association was weaker among ultra-processed foods (UPFs) (r = 0.42) than among unprocessed foods (r = 0.72). In contrast, associations between fat sensation and fat content (r = 0.74), as well as salt taste and sodium content (r = 0.84), were stronger for UPFs. Individuals who had higher energy intakes or were overweight (BMI >23) derived significantly greater percentage of energy from processed foods rather than UPFs, and this energy was higher from "savory-fatty" and lower from "neutral" tasting foods than those with lower energy intakes and normal weight (all P < 0.001). Eighty percent of individuals' dietary energy was from both "savory-fatty" and "neutral" foods, independent of differences in total energy intake and weight status. CONCLUSIONS: Taste-nutrient relationships are maintained across different degrees of food processing. Greater consumption of foods that have a high "savory-fatty" taste was associated with increased energy intakes and overweight in the Asian population.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)200-210
Number of pages11
JournalThe Journal of Nutrition
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022


  • BMI
  • dietary energy intake
  • NOVA food processing classification
  • nutrient content
  • taste quality and intensity


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