A few studies recently presented at Neuroscience 2012 aptly illustrate the importance of the food-brain relationship and illustrate ways in which it can impact public health issues like obesity, diabetes, binge eating and the allure of the high-calorie meal.
In no particular order:
- Being obese appears to affect cognitive function, requiring more effort to complete complex decision-making tasks. Neurologically healthy individuals with a BMI in the overweight and obese range exhibit an increased cognitive sensitivity compared to “leaner” participants, which suggests an association between neural inefficiencies and excess weight and an increasing energy requirement to perform complex tasks. This is particularly important in controlling impulsive behavior and making well-reasoned “snap” decisions with which we are confronted on a daily basis.
- Skipping breakfast causes greater activation of the pleasure-seeking part of the brain when we are presented with images of high-calorie food and may facilitate increased consumption at later meals. When people fast, the brain’s pleasure center shows greater activity, which suggests our ability to create a “bias” towards seeking high-reward foods in a nutrient deprived state.
- Binge eaters may be able to kick the habit with medication used to keep substance abusers clean by reducing the pleasure received from “rewarding” foods. Binging on junk food, often portrayed as addictive behavior, is a psychiatric illness that might be inhibited by medications that dull the ability of certain foods to provoke potentially harmful neurological responses and can modify eating behaviors to reduce the amount of food consumed.
- Omega-3 supplementation may be able to partially offset the impaired neurological function associated with metabolic syndrome. The development of metabolic syndrome and the collection of obesity-related risk factors associated with insulin resistance can be attributed to a sugar rich diet where the disturbance (harm) created by such foods are directly proportional to omega-3 fatty acid deficiencies in the body.
What does this mean for all of us?
The foods we choose to consume have the ability to greatly improve our physical and mental wellbeing. If we eliminate hyper-palatable foods (basically everything sold from a vending machine or drive through window) and maintain healthy eating habits (eating small, nutrient dense meals every few hours and drinking copious amounts of water) we can provide our body the environment it needs to adapt and thrive.