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Too Many Choices?

Too Many Choices?Eating a variety of foods may be the spice of life – but it also may be partially to blame for overeating, says a Tufts expert. Boston.

Boston [06.01.04] In the 1930s, the typical American grocery store stocked about 800 items. Now, stores carry a dizzying array of more than 35,000 products. While choices are nice, a Tufts expert says the country's expanded menu may be contributing to growing American waistlines - and the global obesity epidemic.

"Studies dating back to the 1960s have shown that variety can increase calorie consumption an average of 25 percent, according to Megan McCrory, Ph.D. a nutrition scientist at Tufts," reported the Associated Press.

McCrory - an assistant professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy - says that varied food offerings interest the body in eating, even when it's full.

An example is "in restaurants when you're really stuffed to the brim and you just can't have another bite," McCrory - a scientist at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging - told AP. "Then the waiter brings around the dessert cart...There's always room for dessert."

Sensory specific satiety - a mental process that makes food taste better at first, then progressively less interesting - is likely to blame for the phenomenon. Switching to a new food, even when a person is full, can make eating appealing again.

"There's so much variety that especially when the variety tastes really good we're more apt to go ahead and eat it, especially when it's everywhere you turn," McCrory said in the AP story, which appeared in more than 100 news outlets around the nation.

Companies have long been wise to this fact, offering many options in their product lines. With 150 different chips offered by Frito Lay, 400 different drinks produced by Coca-Cola and 170 soups made by Campbell's, who could resist reaching for more food?

The problem, says the Tufts expert, isn't just confined to the United States. As food variety grows worldwide, so too does the global obesity epidemic.

"McCrory thinks that might be due to a greater variety of foods becoming available in other nations, especially calorie-dense items," reported AP.

In the past 15 years, American exports of snack foods have quadrupled to more than $1.5 billion in 2003, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

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