How food really works in our brain.

Let’s discuss now how food really works in our brain, how our mind shapes our experience of what we eat, why we crave some foods and how some have a powerful hold of us.

When we talk about foods we love, one in particular is the choice for many of us: chocolate. Its mere sight provokes desire because of its smell, texture and shine produce in our brains. The cacao bean is virtually odorless, it's bitter and unpleasant, however toasting will produce about 25 volatile chemicals that together conform its characteristic, glorious aroma; but the cacao bean is also packed with fats, actually its odd that 50% of this vegetable bean is fat which helps chocolate to become so pleasurable and although solid at room temperature, it melts just at body temperature: just as soon as it gets in your mouth.

Fat melting in our mouths is fundamental to the joy and sensations we love when eating, like butter on bread, fat in fried food or the creamy feeling in ice-cream. Fat transforms our enjoyment of food and for good reasons; fat is the ancestral fountain of energy so our brains might well have evolved to reward us with pleasure when we eat it. We even know where in our brains we detect these pleasures: primitive brain areas like the lateral hypothalamus and the amygdala respond to fat content and the higher the content of fat in the food, the more active these parts of the brain become. Of course all these feelings drive our culinary search for foods our brains love.

Part of the reason why fatty meals have been very appreciated in different societies is because our bodies need a lot of energy, Now let’s go back to our tongues, they not only are home to our taste receptors, but are also covered with lots of little bumps that have touch receptors. Fat particles are so small our tongues don't perceive them individually, but rather we sense one thing: smoothness. Touch receptors in the tongue send information to the tactile area of the brain of course, but also to the taste areas; this means that creaminess will be also handled as a “taste” giving once more a huge complexity to the sensorial effect of food. Now we also understand that it is the fat in chocolate which talks to our brains through our tongues.

But there is one more ingredient that can make a big difference: sugar. In nature the combination of fat and sugar is rare and one of those cases where fat and sugar go together is in mother’s milk so craving for this combination might come from that basic, original meal. In fact most foods that people go crazy for have a 50/50 mixture of fat/sugar. This golden combination pleasures our brains and make those foods almost irresistible. When we eat foods we love, the brain will produce serotonin, the pleasure-wellbeing substance, and this will tell the brain and our memory centers how much we enjoyed a food so we can repeat it again and again.