Fats or Brain: Why Can’t You Stop Crunching on Crisps?

There’s such a moreish quality to crisps – let’s face it, you can’t just have one! Pringles really hit the nail on the head with the slogan ‘Once you pop, you can’t stop,’ but this adage can have consequences for your wellbeing, as well as your diet. Part of the reason why so many of us are overweight and obese in this country is the fact that we just can’t say no to junk food – but why? Are some of us just lacking in willpower, or is there another underlying cause to the “Pringle Effect.”

According to a recent study, which was presented at the National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society, something happens to your brain when it becomes impossible not to continue eating. Researchers from FAU Erlangen-Nuremberg detailed a phenomenon called “hedonic hyperphagia”, which affects the wellness of hundreds of millions of people worldwide. According to study author Tobias Hoch, ‘That’s the scientific term for “eating to excess for pleasure, rather than hunger”. It’s recreational over-eating that may occur in almost everyone at some time in life. And the chronic form is a key factor in the epidemic of overweight and obesity that here in the United States threatens health problems for two out of every three people.’

For the study, the researchers offered one of three types of food to rates; standard rat chow, crisps and a mixture of carbohydrates and fat. The researchers added this seemingly odd latter choice to the mix because they theorised that the high ratio of fat and carbohydrates in crisps and chocolate sends a pleasing message to the brain, and that’s why you like them so much. Although the rats ate similar amounts of all three types of food, the crisps were pursued with the most aggression. This means that there is more to crisp-appeal than just good ol’ fats and carbs.

The researchers scanned the rats’ brains, and found changes after eating crisps. There was activity sparked in the reward and addiction centres, as well in the food intake, sleep, activity and motion areas of the brain. Hoch commented, ‘Possibly, the extent to which the brain reward system is activated in different individuals can vary depending on individual taste preferences. In some cases maybe the reward signal from the food is not strong enough to overrule the individual taste.’

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