We all know how difficult it is to stop eating our margarita pizzas and chocolate treats, but why do high-calorie foods taste so delicious to us? Let’s see about wired to eat: why we love calorie-dense food so much.
Books like Wired to Eat by Robb Wolf look at the scientific reasons for our cravings for treats such as luxurious chocolate boxes and bars, crisps and sodas. Wolf’s theory looks at how genetics could have an influence on how much we depend on sweets and fatty foods. There is plenty of research on the topic and other sources also look at how we are genetically wired to desire fat and sugar.
Is chocolate really that bad for you?
Chocolate on some occasions may actually be good for you and has the ability to keep your heart healthy if you otherwise live a healthy lifestyle and eat it only in moderation. By choosing small chocolate gift boxes instead of addicting, calorie-rich chocolate bars you can stop yourself from eating more than you intend to. Similarly, having a small bag of crisps occasionally probably won’t harm you in the same way that a family pack spread out over the week might.
But we often seem to find it difficult to resist cravings. Many products you can find on supermarket shelves have ingredients in them that make us eat more than we otherwise would. This is why choosing unprocessed foods can often be much healthier.
Why does this happen from an evolutionary perspective?
Our brains are wired to prefer foods that have high amounts of sugar and/or have a high fat content. Our body chooses foods that are higher in calories because our lives once depended on it. In our early stages, humans had to stock up on high-calorie foods whenever there was a chance to, in order to be able to survive until a new opportunity presented itself to eat. The reward mechanism in our brains is therefore conditioned to tell us when we have consumed such foods, making fatty and sugary products seem more appealing.
Since we no longer have to rely on this reward mechanism, we tend to be quick to make unhealthy choices while shopping, gaining weight as a result.
Not only do we not have to rely on rich meals to help our body store fat in order to survive, we also don’t need to hunt for it. This means that we are far less active and can put on weight much quicker.
‘When we eat sweet foods the brain’s reward system — called the mesolimbic dopamine system — gets activated. Dopamine is a brain chemical released by neurons and can signal that an event was positive. When the reward system fires, it reinforces behaviours — making it more likely for us to carry out these actions again. Dopamine “hits” from eating sugar promote rapid learning to preferentially find more of these foods’, says Amy Reichelt, a BrainsCAN Research Associate at Western University.
In conclusion, balance is key. Finding strategies to avoid overindulging in high caloric foods too much can really help keep your diet healthy, your body active and even improve brain functions. Don’t let unhealthy products trick your brain into believing they are actually a healthy choice.