12 January - 20 June 2016

Do calories dictate consumption?

22 May 13

Work by researchers at Yale University and published in Current Biology suggests that calories, rather than flavour, may dictate our liking for food. Over a period of days, they studied brain responses in 14 individuals when presented with flavoured drinks that contained no calories. At a later stage, non-detectable calories were added to some of the formulations and consumption continued, with subjects receiving drinks that either had no calories or some calories added. In addition to having the brain scans, subjects rated their 'liking' of drinks. The researchers reported a small but perceptually meaningful increase in liking for the flavour that had been paired with calories. They also found that the change in liking was associated with changes in insular responses to this beverage. The brain response to the calorie-paired flavour was unrelated to liking but was strongly associated with the changes in plasma glucose levels produced by ingestion of the beverage when consumed previously with calories. The authors suggest that their findings imply that the drivers of consumption, (and by implication weight-gain), may be dependent upon individual differences in glucose metabolism. If this is the case, it would support the notion that individuals with diabetes and prediabetes are more susceptible to the reinforcing effects of energy-dense foods and hence more reactive to cues predicting their availability. They conclude that glucose metabolism is a critical signal regulating the brain's response to food cues, and that this process operates independently from the ability of calories to condition liking.

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