Fatty Foods Make Us Feel Happier

By Jason Knapfel for DietsInReview.com

When you're feeling a little down, do you reach for your favorite junk food, like ice cream or chips? We all know about comfort food and how great it makes us feel when we indulge. Now Belgian researchers are shedding some light on what's going on at the molecular level.

The study, led by Dr. Lukas Van Oudenhove, a psychiatrist from the University of Leuven, suggests that it's the fatty acid in comfort foods that improve people's moods.

"Eating fat seems to make us less vulnerable to sad emotions, even if we don't know we're eating fat," said Van Oudenhove.

The researchers got 12 healthy subjects to participate in the study. After a 12-hour fast, each person underwent a 40-minute brain activity scan called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). They were then hooked up to a gastric feeding tube that administered 250 milliliters of fatty acid or a saline solution. Three minutes before being fed either solution, the people were played 11 one-minute pieces of sad classical music. Then 10 sad faces projected onto a screen in front of the volunteers during the music.

Without knowing they were given the fatty acid, half of them reported feeling less sad than those given the saline solution.

Some experts are concerned that the study was too limited, since it only involved 12 participants and that no obese people were involved. However, they admit it's a good start towards understanding the emotional aspects of eating fatty foods.

"The next step would be to test the effects of food that contain both high-fat and high-sugar," said Sonja Yokum, a research associate at the Oregon Research Institute in Eugene. "It would be interesting to test if fat, sugar or the combination decreases negative mood and for how long."

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