Feel Good Foods

Mom’s meatloaf. Grandma’s apple pie. Macaroni and cheese. Chocolate chip cookies. What do these foods have in common? Comfort. Beyond the nostalgia that comes with eating some of America’s favorite foods, they are enjoyable to eat and they make us feel better. Sadly, they are also full of fat. But, according to new research, this may be the reason why they are so comforting.

Recently, scientists in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have been uncovering the relationship between emotions and eating. In a brief report recently published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, they reported that fat intake actually stops the behavioral and neuronal responses to sad emotions. As part of the research, 12 healthy volunteers underwent four 40-minute functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) tests while listening to music or viewing pictures that induced sad emotions. Simultaneously, the participants received an infusion of either saline or fatty acids directly into the stomach. All tests were completed after a 12-hour fast. During the tests, participants rated their hunger, fullness, and nausea, as well as their level of sadness or happiness, using numerical scales.

The results indicated that subjects receiving the fatty infusion were less sad when viewing sad pictures or listening to sad music. The fMRI tests confirmed fewer neural responses to sadness in several areas of the brain in this group.

The link between emotions and eating is not new. Traditionally, the sensations, such as sights and smells and tastes, were believed to induce emotional changes associated with food — a mind-to-body connection. But, this research proves that the link may be bidirectional, involving a body-to-mind influence, too. The participants did not know what type of infusion they received, yet they still experienced the emotional effects of comfort food.  Emotions may influence food choices, but food also influences emotions.

The relationships between food and emotions may be imbalanced in individuals with eating disorders, obesity, or depression. The authors hope this new research will begin to identify the mechanisms underlying the connection between food and emotion and offer new targets for the treatment of food-related and emotional disorders.


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Jennifer Gibson, PharmD

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD, is a practicing clinical pharmacist and medical writer/editor with experience in researching and preparing scientific publications, developing public relations materials, creating educational resources and presentations, and editing technical manuscripts. She is the owner of Excalibur Scientific, LLC.
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