BioTrends 2011: This Is Your Brain on ... Food

October 13, 2010

As every chocoholic knows, there IS such a thing as comfort food.

And chocolate's not only good for a sense of well-being. An article we cited in this year's August Research Report,  chocolate (in moderation: 2/3 to 1 oz/week) has been linked to a lower risk of heart failure; see "Chocolate Linked to Lower Risk of Heart Failure."

One well-known comfort food has been validated by a series of books published by… Chicken Soup for the Soul. First published in 1993, the title is still going strong. Amazon lists an amazing 1,742 results for a "chicken soup for the soul books" search, of which 43 are to be published in 2011 and available for pre-order.

What's the enduring attraction of comfort food? One reason may be what I call "de-stressing by ingesting." What are some of these stresses? Jobs and the economy, violence in our local streets and armed conflict around the world, rising costs of healthcare and education, our "always on" culture; couple these with life's enduring worries: the responsibilities of raising children and caring for aging parents, keeping up with the Joneses, marital strife, money, "a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage" (Herbert Hoover, 1928).

Ok, so stress is certainly nothing new. Nor is the need for comfort food, a fact that fast food and consumer package goods companies know well as they entice us to sugary and/or salty snacks and high-fat foods. Notice how many of their ads allude to mom's home cooking and family togetherness?

We'll explore the rise in obesity in developed (and some developing) countries in another article under the "economic influences & consequences" subcategory. But if you're interested in the topic, here's a great Scientific American article on the brain and fatty food posted March 2010:
 "Addicted to Fat: Overeating May Alter the Brain as Much as Hard Drugs."

If you really want to delve into how what you ingest affects your brain, behavior and mood, check out "Your Brain on Food: How Chemicals Control Your Thoughts and Feelings" by Gary Wenk (July 2010). 
So enjoy the effects of tryptophan in that cup of warm milk at bedtime and you'll sleep like a baby.

Category: BioTrends 2011
Filed under: Food/Nutrition; Mental Health; Aging; Obesity