When you’re feeling blue and crave a snack, what do you reach for? Chances are it’s more likely to be macaroni and cheese than carrot sticks.
Now, new research suggests fatty food really can help lift our moods — but contrary to what you might think, it’s not the “mouth feel” or the way the food looks that does it; it’s the fat itself hitting out stomachs.
For the experiment, conducted at the University of Manchester, 12 healthy men and women were put on 12-hour fasts and then given direct infusions into their stomachs of either a saltwater saline solution or fatty acid solution. The participants couldn’t taste the solutions and weren’t told which one they had received.
During four days of experiments, the participants underwent 40-minute fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) neurologic scans in which they listened to either sad or neutral music while viewing images of sad or neutral faces.
They were then given the solutions and asked questions about their mood, as well as about their feelings of fullness or hunger.
The participants reported more hunger while listening and viewing sad emotions, and less hunger during neutral emotion conditions.
As well, those who got the fatty acid solution reported feeling about half as sad as those who received the saline infusion. The fMRI results also showed that their behavioral and nerve cell responses to sad emotions were also lessened.
The study was published Monday in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
The authors concede that the study was relatively small, and that the findings need to be confirmed by further research.
But they say this may be the first study looking at the connection food and mood, in which the participants weren’t able to tell what kind of food they were receiving.
Lead author Dr. Lukas Van Oudenhove, a psychiatrist at the Translational Research Centre for Gastrointestinal Disorders at the University of Leuven in Belgium, said the findings could have implications for the study of eating disorders.
“…It may indeed open possibilities for depression research, obesity research,” he told the Canadian Press.
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