190317 Do you have an internal calorie counter?

190317 Do you have an internal calorie counter?

The quick answer to the question do you have an internal calorie counter seems to be yes, if the findings as reported in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association of Psychological Science are valid, which they appear to be from a recently conducted study by Alain Dagher[1]. He is a neurologist with the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital in Canada.

When we look at food in the grocery store, we may be deciding if we are in the mood for it, about how it will taste to us and perhaps its nutritional value. However, that may not be all there is to the thought process.

Results from a recently conducted neuroimaging study suggest that our brain has an internal calorie counter that is calculating the calories in the food.

“Earlier studies found that children and adults tend to choose high-calorie food,” says study author Alain Dagher, neurologist at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital. “The easy availability and low cost of high-calorie food has been blamed for the rise in obesity. Their consumption is largely governed by the anticipated effects of these foods, which are likely learned through experience.”

“Our study sought to determine how people’s awareness of caloric content influenced the brain areas known to be implicated in evaluating food options,” says Dagher. “We found that brain activity tracked the true caloric content of foods.”[2]

Twenty-nine healthy people participated in this study. Each one rated, on a scale of 1-20, how much they liked the familiar foods shown to them in pictures. At the same time, they were also asked to estimate the amount of calories in each of the foods.

The research team was surprised to find the calorie estimates made by the participants were not very accurate. Even so, in a simulated bid, the test group still made higher than anticipated bids on the food with the highest calorie content.

During the process of looking at the food, functional brains scans were conducted that clearly showed activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex[3]. This part of the brain takes an active role in inhibiting emotional responses, which in some cases means poor decision making with undesirable results especially when coupled up with its contribution to the decision making process. This is area also encodes the value of stimuli reaching out senses, and predicts what the value of the item will be if immediately consumed.

The results from the functional brain scans picked up activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex while the participants looked at different food images. This activity was correlated to the precise amount of calories in the food. The ratings given to each food by the participants was associated with activity in the insula[4].

Alain Dagher thinks that by understanding the reasons people make their food choices could eventually help them control those factors that lead to obesity.

Do you suppose an internal calorie counter could help stem the rising tide of obesity in our nation?

[1] Journal reference: Psychological Science Psychology is the study of the mind, occurring partly via the study of behavior.

Provided by The Association for Psychological Science, (APS) formerly known as American Psychological Society is a professional association formed to advance the study, research and advancement of the study of psychological sciences.

[2] ibid

[3] It plays a role in the inhibition of emotional responses, and in the process of decision making.

[4] The insula provides emotional context to sensory inputs from pain processes and the basic emotions of anger, fear, disgust, joy, and sadness. Most importantly, it appears to provide humans with the ability to recognize the status of their bodies. http://thebrain.mcgill.ca/intermediaire.php


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