How The Best Comfort Food Works To Improve Mood

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The next time you’re feeling down, and you find yourself yearning for those best comfort foods we all love (chocolate, mac and cheese, salty snacks, ice cream, etc.), you’ll understand just why these treats make you feel better thanks to some new research out of Belgium. It seems that fatty foods do more than just satisfy our appetites; they also seem to soothe the brain.

We’ve all had experiences where a specific food feels like it heals emotional wounds. Some would say this reaction is in your mind… a soothing memory from childhood, a time of safety and security. But others believe there are physical signals that go from the stomach right to the brain, where they can have an impact on our mood.

Most experts thought the look, smell and taste of comfort foods brought much of the benefit, but this latest research bypassed these types of sensory stimulation by infusing fatty acids right into the stomach. What’s more, the subjects did not know what they were getting

The researchers used 40-minute f-MRI scans (functional MRI) to look at areas within the brain that were activated when 12 non-obese subjects in good health felt sadness, and were then given an infusion of either fatty acids or saline through a feeding tube.

The subjects looked at images of either unhappy or neutral faces while listening to either unhappy or neutral music. They then rated their levels of fullness, sense of hunger and mood both before they had the MRI and at three points during the scan itself.

The participants who received the fatty acid infusion reported feeling 50% less sad compared with those who had the plain old saline.

The infusion of fatty acids appeared to ease the neural response to sad feelings in parts of the brain. In fact, the scans showed that induced sadness brought a change of from 3-4%, but this shrank to less than 1% for those who were given the fatty acids.

The researchers believe the findings show that the stomach must somehow “talk” to the brain, even when the pleasing sensation of actually eating a comfort food is removed.

It’s hard to say if other ingredients in foods would do something similar, so more work is needed. A larger population of subjects would help confirm these results. Looking at the effects of high fat and high sugar foods would also be an important step in terms of future research.

It may also prove valuable to look at “emotional eaters” and successful dieters. Still the findings may be a step on the road to finding treatments for depression, eating disorders or obesity itself. No one can deny that finding a way to keep people from craving high fat, sugar-laden foods would be a great help in managing obesity.

The work certainly gives us some insight into the relationship between the best comfort food and our mood. The fatty acids negated some of the feelings of sadness and this is something many of us are familiar with, though we might not understand the physiology behind it. The findings do show that there is a physical reaction going on here.

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Categories: Recipes