Why do people like some foods more than others? What is it about cakes and burgers that we crave? What usually happens in our brains when we choose what to eat? If you hoped into an MRI machine and were offered a delicious vanilla cake, you would see your brain’s reward system light up.
The Relation of Food and the Brains
Right above your eyes in your orbital frontal cortex, a part of the brain developed in primates and humans. Here, bundles of neurons respond to various sensations and nutrients, smells, smooth and rich milkshake, and the more your neurons light up, the more delicious the taste seems. Two things that particularly delight these reward neurons are sugar and fat. Combinations of sugar and fat can be even more delightful, such as in that delicious cake or milkshake. However, your neurons don’t just react to these sensations. Neurons also activate when you’re planning what to eat in a contest with each other to get you to choose them. Once you have decided the same neurons track your progress, and as you eat, they get less active as you approach fullness.
However, we are not entirely at the mercy of the demands of our orbital frontal cortex. Having information about food can make a huge difference. There are two types: labeled ‘rich and delicious flavor’ and labeled ‘boiled vegetable water.’ Your neurons get excited at the taste of ‘rich and delicious’ and less for ‘boiled vegetable water.’ But wait a minute, you’ve been tricked that is the same soup, and that was enough to change your experience of it completely.
Factors That Determine the Foods We Seek.
Another part of the brain, which plays a major role in choosing food, is the amygdala. The amygdala chooses where to go out with another person. If you’ve seen what they prefer previously, your amygdala will have developed the so-called stimulations neurons. These predict the choices you think they will make, which you can then factor into your suggestions of what to eat together.
The difference in our genes is also a factor in how susceptible we are to our reward neurons’ siren call. Some people are naturally more responsive to the reward we get from eating fat and sugar than others. Scientific experiments give us ideas about how our brains compute our choices of what to eat. However, the way we experience these choices in our lives and society is also complex. Research shows we choose what we eat for many reasons; what’s available at the grocery store? What’s convenient? Is it affordable? What do we have good memories about? Is the food healthy? What is our current health status?
Evolutions of the Kind of Foods People Seek.
In this digital age, social media platforms are one of the biggest things that have changed the way people eat and the foods they are seeking. Instagram and other social media platforms have enabled people to take photos of beautiful food photos, which has transformed the idea that you are what you eat into you are what you post. So, we seek so many things from the food we eat; we can seek a connection to history or comfort. However, we also seek it in the sense of control when we live in moments full of economic and political strife. Sometimes, we seek in food some sense of security. In those moments, we see people interested in ideas about naturalness, purity, health to shield ourselves from contexts outside of our control.
Making Choices Based on Information and not Desire.
So, food also tells us stories about who we are, the full complexity of our identities. We consume a story about our gender and sexuality, race, ethnicity, and social class, among others. What we eat tells these complex stories about the people we are.
In the future, we can utilize our knowledge of what is happening in our brains to design foods that low in calories and are still attractive but healthy. Furthermore, we can help ourselves by understanding how our reward neurons plot to get what they want. We can be aware of the time that we tend to make poor choices, like when we choose food because of some label which appeals to us rather than its taste. So, in the end, we are at least not fully at the mercy of our reward neurons. We can utilize our understanding to help design healthy foods and make healthy choices.