New findings support the idea that fatty foods can elevate your mood … with obvious implications for efforts to maintain a healthy weight.
But the news has a silver lining, in that it suggests that if people are made aware of this, they could make healthier choices among fatty foods.
That is, they could pick fatty foods that satiate them faster than empty-calorie junk foods, while delivering nutrients (like omega-3s) that tend to improve metabolism and overall health.
For example, if someone seeks a fatty food to boost their mood, it's smarter to pick some nutrient-dense salmon, tuna, or sardines – rich in omega-3s, vitamin D, and filling protein – rather than a slice of sugary cheesecake.
Dutch study finds that fat acts like a mood drug
Researchers from the Netherlands' University of Leuven recruited 12 healthy, non-obese people for their novel experiment (Van Oudenhove L et al. 2011).
The participants were placed in functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scanning machines to monitor brain activity as they viewed images of people with sad expressions and listened to one-minute clips of somber classical music.
To test the effects of dietary fat on mood, the participants were then hooked up to gastric feeding tubes that pass through the mouth into the stomach. (Feeding tubes were used so that participants could not use any senses to tell what they were being given.)
Half of the group was tube-fed lauric acid – a rather healthful saturated fat found in human, cow, goat, and coconut milks – while the other half received a saline solution.
During the 40 minute testing period, participants were asked to rate their levels of hunger, fullness, and mood at four different times.
Those who received the fatty liquid reported feeling about half as sad as those who had received the saline solution (placebo), but there was no difference in hunger or fullness.
And the fMRI scans showed that the participants who received the fatty liquid showed less activity in the areas of the brain associated with feelings of sadness.
Findings hold practical implications
As the researchers noted, it's been shown that emotions affect the hunger signals that the stomach sends to the brain, and influence our food choices … what we eat and how much.
These findings shed light on the role that mood plays in influencing food choices … and may alert people to the hidden emotional enticements of fatty junk food.
Prior research shows that unhelpful brain responses to food persist in obese people even after they lose substantial weight, making it hard to keep pounds off (DelParigi A et al. 2004).
However, if an overweight person becomes aware that they use fatty foods to boost mood, they can at least make better choices!
Braconnier D. Fatty foods really are mood enhancers. Medicalxpress.com. July 27, 2011. Accessed at http://medicalxpress.com/news/2011-07-fatty-foods-mood.html
DelParigi A, Chen K, Salbe AD, Hill JO, Wing RR, Reiman EM, Tataranni PA. Persistence of abnormal neural responses to a meal in postobese individuals. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2004 Mar;28(3):370-7.
- Van Oudenhove L, McKie S, Lassman D, Uddin B, Paine P, Coen S, Gregory L, Tack J, Aziz Q. Fatty acid-induced gut-brain signaling attenuates neural and behavioral effects of sad emotion in humans. J Clin Invest. 2011 Jul 25. pii: 46380. doi: 10.1172/JCI46380. [Epub ahead of print]