Why Comfort Foods Are So Comforting
When we are feeling sad, many of us reach for comfort foods such as chocolate, ice cream, or chips. Now new research helps show how these foods boost our moods.
Researchers led by Lukas Van Oudenhove, MD, PhD, at the University of Leuven in Belgium, used functional MRI scans to chart the areas of the brain that lit up when 12 healthy non-obese individuals experienced sadness and then received an infusion of fatty acid or saline delivered via a feeding tube. Many comfort foods have a substantial amount of fatty acids.
Participants listened to sad or neutral music while viewing corresponding images of sad or neutral faces. They were asked to rate fullness, hunger, and mood before the MRI scan and three times during the brain scan.
The participants did not know which infusion they received. But those who got the fatty acid blast reported feeling about half as sad as those who received the saline infusion.
The study appears in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
"These findings increase our understanding of the interplays among emotions, hunger, food intake and meal-induced sensations in general which may have important implications for a wide range of disorders including obesity, eating disorders, and depression," the researchers conclude.