Eating alone doesn't have to leave a bad taste in your mouth

Eating in front of a mirror can improve the taste of your meal
Eating in front of a mirror can improve the taste of your meal
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If you're eating alone, the taste of your food can be enhanced by sitting in front of a mirror, or even a picture of yourself, according to new research.

It is well known meals become more flavoursome when people dine together, rather than on their own.

Now scientists have found exactly the same effect can be achieved by supping on your tod - as long as you see a reflection or photograph of yourself.

People rate food as tasting better, and eat more of it, when they eat with company than when they eat alone. The findings published in the journal Physiology & Behaviour could help boost the health of elderly people who do not eat enough because they are lonely. Dubbed the 'social facilitation of eating', it is a well established phenomenon.

But what produces the effect is not clear. Dr Ryuzaburo Nakata, of Nagoya University, Japan, said: "We wanted to find out what the minimum requirement is for the social facilitation of eating.

"Does another person have to actually be physically present, or is information suggesting the presence of others sufficient?"

In the study, 16 adults aged between 65 and 74 were invited to eat salted or caramel popcorn for 90 seconds and then rate their enjoyment when sitting alone, in front of a mirror, or watching a monitor an image of a wall.

The researchers found people eating alone reported food as tasting better, and ate more of it, when they could see themselves reflected in the mirror, compared with when they ate in front of the monitor.

Eating in front of a mirror improved sweetness by 25 per cent, goodness by 21 per cent and quality by 12 per cent.

In a further experiment, when the researchers replaced the mirror with photos of the volunteers eating, they still experienced an increase in the appeal of food and ate more.

The researchers are hoping that the findings could help lonely older people enjoy their food more and eat larger portions.

Added co author Dr Nobuyuki Kawai: "Studies have shown that for older adults, enjoying food is associated with quality of life, and frequently eating alone is associated with depression and loss of appetite

"Our findings therefore suggest a possible approach to improving the appeal of food, and quality of life, for older people who do not have company when they eat for example, those who have suffered loss or are far away from their loved ones."