GOOD

Sweet! Science Identifies the “Sugar Craving” Circuit in Our Brains

Now that we’ve identified it, can we use it to help us eat better?

image via (cc) flickr user tjadin

A new study done by researchers out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s has, for the first time, identified the existence of a specific neural pathway in the brain which regulates compulsive sugar cravings independent of the body's other appetite-related processes. That's good news for anyone who finds themselves the owner of a seriously unhealthy sweet tooth—an independent neural circuit responsible for extreme sugar cravings has the potential to be treated without interfering with the body's natural appetite for other (hopefully healthier) foods.

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The Virgin-Whore Effect: What Healthy Eating Has To Do With Our Puritanical Society

Eating healthy is important, but our guilt-ridden approach to food only hurts us in the long run.



Can we be trained to like healthier foods? A recent study in the Journal of Public Health says maybe. The study asserts that 53 percent of baby food has too much salt and sugar, which may promote a taste for these ingredients in the future. So, they surmise, if we train babies to like things like broccoli and carrots instead, they could develop a taste for vegetables rather than sweets from their first spoonful, therefore putting a dent in the obesity epidemic.

This sounds lovely, but there are some deeply rooted evolutionary reasons for why we love sweets and salt so much. Sugars in fruits are organic sources of energy, and salt is an essential compound that allows our bodies to function properly. It's natural for us to want a small amount of these highly pleasurable tastes. And as Scientific American notes, it may be wishful thinking to hard-wire kids to stay away from these foods; biologically, children have an increased craving for sweets in particular because their growth is in overdrive.

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Why Your Parents' Love (of Vegetables) Matters

We start learning about the flavors of healthy food even before we're born. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean we'll be able to afford them later on.

A new study suggests that we can train folks to prefer healthier foods by stripping extra sugars and salts out of baby foods. But the effort to get bitter-tasting, healthier foods into the nation's high chairs is working against some powerful biological forces. Humans evolved to seek out—with the least amount of effort—fatty, salty, and sugary foods. And the impulse kicks in before we even open our mouths.

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Quebec Scientists Brand One of the 54 Unpronouncable Chemicals in Maple Syrup

What "Quebecol" means for the science and business of regional foods.


As I wrote yesterday, the flavors and aromas of maple syrup are bound up in its geography, processing, and its chemistry—most notably, sucrose and vanillin. Its chemistry became interesting recently, when a University of Rhode Island study, funded by the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers and Agri-Food Canada, found 54 different chemical compounds, including—bear with me—2,3,3-tri-(3-methoxy-4-hydroxyphenyl)-1-propanol. Researchers said this compound appeared to be unique to maple syrup and dubbed it Quebecol.

The Quebec Maple Syrup Board took that as an opportunity to tout maple syrup's health benefits—much like Pom Wonderful underwrites studies demonstrating the antioxidant content of its pomegranate juices. Others were quick to point out that quantifying maple syrup's phytochemistry was neither a sign of quality nor an indication of its possible effects in our bodies (which the study did not test). Joe Schwarcz, the director of the McGill University Office for Science and Society, told Post Media News: "Any suggestion that [maple syrup] is 'healthy' is irresponsible and may make scientifically shallow people eat more."

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Here's What A Lifetime's Worth of Corn Syrup Consumption Looks Like

Could a cherished aspect of our diet—those sweet drinks and sugary snacks—actually be toxic in the long run? If only it were that simple.


Americans are guzzling, on average, 90 pounds of sugar a year, and about a hot tub's worth (313 gallons) of corn syrup over a lifetime. What is all that glucose and fructose doing to our bodies? Are sugars the cause of the Western diseases of affluence—diabesity, heart disease, and some cancers?

In this weekend's New York Times Magazine, Gary Taubes, the author of Good Calories, Bad Calories, has an excellent examination of the scientific research on sugars. In addition to clearing up some misconceptions (high fructose corn syrup and sugar are "effectively identical in their biological effects"), he covers the ongoing search into why sugars are not toxic after one meal, but may have something to do with malignant cancers after 1,000 meals. He writes:

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Can the "Flavor Tripping" Berry Help Solve the Hunger Problem?

Chef Homaro Cantu thinks that the berry could revolutionize the way we feed the world by making grasses and other wild bitter plants palatable.



In 1850, the British Army Medical Department posted Dr. William F. Daniell, a surgeon, to Africa's Gold Coast. Daniell treated soldiers with Western medicines, but he also looked into native remedies, including cola nuts (which he later discovered had intense pharmacological effects) and a "Miraculous berry of Western Africa" he called Synsepalum dulcificum.

Most of us are familiar with the kola nut, but the miracle berry has only recently been making appearances—first in scientific literature and then in stories about recreational "flavor-tripping" parties. Because the fruit contains a glycoprotein called miraculin, it masks some of our sour taste bud receptors and causes the brain to misinterpret some foods as sweet. (But much like stevia, another super-sweet sugar alternative, the Food and Drug Administration denied its use as a food additive in the 1970s.)

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