Recent discoveries in the area of neuroscience have indicated that the human reward system is modulated by the consumption of foods, in particular those high in sugar and fat. The study entitled “Habitual daily intake of a sweet and fatty snack modulates reward processing in humans” explores this relationship between food and this system, and its results are quite revealing.
The study included the participation of 49 volunteers. The study implemented a feeding intervention for 8 weeks in a controlled, randomized, single-blind project. Each volunteer participated in one screening session and three test sessions. In the screening session, the inclusion criteria were verified, and the participants were prepared and familiarized with tests. After the first test session (baseline), there was a dietary intervention. The participants were then tested in two more sessions, four weeks and eight weeks later.
The results showed that the group that consumed the sweet and fatty snack had a reduced reward system response to visual and gustatory stimuli compared to the group that did not consume the snack. This suggests that habitual consumption of foods high in sugar and fat may lead to a decreased reward system response to stimuli that would normally be considered enjoyable.
Reward System: What is it?
The reward system is a complex neural network that includes several areas of the brain, such as the prefrontal cortex, the nucleus accumbens, and the anterior cingulate cortex. It is responsible for regulating behaviors related to the pursuit of rewards, such as pleasure, motivation, and learning. When the reward system is activated, the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and motivation, occurs.
Consumption of foods high in sugar and fat is known to stimulate the release of dopamine in the reward system. This response is an important part of our survival system, since high-calorie foods were scarce in ancestral environments and therefore valuable. However, excessive consumption of foods high in sugar and fat can lead to dysfunctions in this system, which can contribute to the development of eating disorders such as binge eating.
Foods high in sugar and fat and reward system
The results of the study show that habitual consumption of foods high in sugar and fat can lead to a reduction in the reward system response, which may contribute to binge eating. This suggests that moderate consumption of these foods may be important for maintaining a healthy response of this system. In addition, the study indicates that foods also affect cognition and mood, as consuming foods high in sugar and fat can lead to a reduction in cognitive function and an increase in anxiety and stress.
The results of the study are important because they highlight the importance of a balanced and moderate diet for brain and body health. Excessive consumption of foods high in sugar and fat can lead to dysfunctions of the reward system, as well as health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Therefore, it is important to limit the consumption of these foods and choose healthier options such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
In addition, it is important to remember that food consumption is not only a matter of physical nutrition, but also emotional. We often turn to foods high in sugar and fat as a way to relieve stress, anxiety, or sadness. However, it is important to look for other ways to deal with these emotions, such as physical activity, meditation, therapy or hobbies.
The study highlights that excessive consumption of these foods can lead to a dysfunction of the reward system, which can contribute to the development of eating disorders such as binge eating. Therefore, healthcare professionals should encourage their patients to limit their consumption of these foods and choose healthier options such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It is important to educate patients about the effects of these foods as well as their negative effects on overall health.
How does the food reward system work?
Watch the video on Science Play with João Motarelli:
Neurobiology of the desire to eat
Article: Reward system
– Edwin Thanarajah S, DiFeliceantonio AG, Albus K, et al. Habitual daily intake of a sweet and fatty snack modulates reward processing in humans [published online ahead of print, 2023 Mar 15]. Cell Metab. 2023; S1550-4131(23)00051-7. doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2023.02.015