Your Brain on Food

There’s still so much we don’t know about the mass of gray stuff in our skulls and how it relates to what we eat. But two new pieces of research support the notion that our brains and appetites are intrinsically intertwined—and that it’s a two-way street.

New findings presented last week at the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior's annual conference in Seattle, Washington suggest that brain chemistry may cause some people — even those who aren't overweight — to be more easily tempted by that plate of chocolate chip cookies sitting on the kitchen counter.

The researchers found that men with higher levels of dopamine activity in the striatum, an area of the brain that lights up when food is given as a reward, responded more quickly to pictures of food. This phenomenon could lead to overeating, they concluded.

And since you’re thinking about how your head is linked to what you’ve got in front of you for dinner, consider seafood: A study recently published online by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine suggests that eating baked or broiled fish at least once a week—regardless of the level of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids they contain—boosts brain health.

Subjects who chowed down on fish had larger brain volumes in areas that are associated with memory and cognition, but only if it wasn’t fried. (Sorry, fish and chips fans!)

"This suggests that lifestyle factors, in this case eating fish, rather than biological factors contribute to structural changes in the brain," said the study’s senior investigator, James T. Becker, in a press release. “A confluence of lifestyle factors likely are responsible for better brain health, and this reserve might prevent or delay cognitive problems that can develop later in life.”

Hmm. Maybe today’s the day for a stop at the fishmonger, folks.