The Truth About Sensa

Can 'The Sprinkle Diet' really help you lose weight?

By Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD
WebMD Expert Column

You eat your favorite foods without counting calories, deprivation, or cravings. All you do is sprinkle everything you eat with flavor-enhancing Sensa crystals, and you'll lose weight, say advertisements promoting Sensa.

Alan Hirsch, MD, founder and neurologic director of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, developed Sensa crystals or "tastants" that promote feelings of fullness and, ultimately, weight loss. If you stick with Sensa, you could lose 30 pounds in six months, according to the company web site.

What Is the Sensa Diet?

While it's sometimes called "The Sprinkle Diet," the Sensa weight loss method is not a diet per se.

Sensa sprinkles are food flakes made from maltodextrin, tricalcium phosphate, silica, and flavors. You sprinkle them on food as you would salt or sugar, and they enhance scent while adding either a mildly salty or sweet taste. Savory flavors include cheddar cheese, onion, horseradish, ranch dressing, taco, and Parmesan cheese. Sweet flavors are cocoa, spearmint, banana strawberry, raspberry, and malt.

All the tastants are calorie-free, sugar-free, and sodium-free.

Sensa is intended to work with your sense of smell, fooling your brain and stomach into thinking you're full, Hirsch says. He uses the term "sensory-specific satiety" to describe the process by which smell receptors send messages of fullness to your brain.

"The flavors may make people focus on the sensory characteristics of food -- smell and taste -- and can actually cause a change in eating habits and behavior," Hirsch tells WebMD

A one-month Sensa starter kit costing $59, and a 6-month kit at an introductory rate of $235, are available on the Sensa web site. (The Consumer Affairs web site cautions dieters that the free trial is associated with an automatic enrollment plan, and incurs an additional charge of $89.99 if you don't send all of the product back within 30 days.)

What's the Evidence for Sensa?

The company's weight loss evidence is based on a few company-sponsored "clinical" studies (not to be confused with a clinical trial, which is the gold standard for research) done by Hirsch. These studies have not been published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

The lack of published scientific evidence on Sensa, along with a lack of diet and fitness guidelines to accompany the product, raise a red flag for some nutrition experts.

"This is not a magic bullet. There is no magic sprinkle. This isn't even a diet," says diet and fitness expert, Pamela Peeke, MD. "It oversimplifies the complex physiology and psychology associated with appetite."

She adds that there is nothing unique about the list of ingredients in the tastants.

Stick to Traditional Diet Strategies

Ultimately, if Sensa leads to fewer calories in, it should produce weight loss. However, until more research is done to support the link between smell and weight loss, many experts recommend sticking to traditional weight loss plans that involve eating less and exercising more.

Educating yourself about healthy eating and making simple, sustainable changes to your lifestyle are the keys to lasting weight loss. If you step up your activity to burn 250 additional calories per day while cutting 250 calories per day from your diet, you can shed 50 pounds in a year, Peeke says.

If you choose to try Sensa, check with your health care provider before starting the program.

SOURCES:

Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine, University of Maryland; chief medical correspondent, Discovery Health TV; author, Fight Fat after Forty, Body-for-Life for Women.

Trysensa.com web site.

Consumer Affairs web site.

Edited on June 15, 2010

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Last Editorial Review: 6/15/2010 7:20:53 PM