fat really does bring pleasure

The sensation of fat in the mouth activates the reward centers of the brain, report British researchers in the March 24 Journal of Neuroscience in a finding that sheds light on why high-calorie foods are so appealing and might lead to healthier fat substitutes. Ivan de Araujo and Edmund Rolls of the University of Oxford fed 12 people differently textured bland foods from tubes as they scanned their brains using a functional magnetic-resonance-imaging machine. The volunteers were fed cellulose — an odorless and tasteless thickening agent — mixed to a variety of viscosities, and an odorless and tasteless vegetable oil. The researchers found that the thicker solutions activated an area of the brain that overlaps a region known to be triggered by taste, hinting that the brain builds a picture of food in the mouth based on both taste and texture. Interestingly, the researchers also discovered that the bland vegetable oil activated the anterior cingulate cortex, a region of the brain involved with processing pleasurable sensations such as pleasant touches and aromas, where the tasteless cellulose, mixed to match oil’s viscosity, did not, suggesting there really is something special about fat that makes us crave it so much.

This news brief appeared in the Discoveries column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 4/13/2004.
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