Separate brain circuits for taste and calories helps explain the preference for sugar
Debunking popular assumption that sweet tasting and thereby high calorie foods are preferred by the brain, an interesting new study by Yale University researchers, has found that the brain responds to taste and calorie counts in fundamentally different ways.
According to the study published in Nature Neuroscience, the inherent requirement for high energy food by the brain dominates our desire for sugars rather than their taste.
“It turns out the brain actually has two segregated sets of neurons to process sweetness and energy signals,” said Ivan de Araujo of the John B. Pierce Laboratory and leading author of the study. “If the brain is given the choice between pleasant taste and no energy, or unpleasant taste and energy, the brain picks energy.”
A region in the brain called the striatum is involved in processing rewards tastes as well as nutrient value. However, the researchers found that the rewards centre for processing the the two were located at different regions of the striatum. Signals about the value of taste are processed in the ventral striatum while nutritional value was processed in the dorsal striatum.
Interestingly, the researchers observed that the dorsal striatum remained responsive to energy even when calories fed to mice were paired with a very aversive taste.
“The sugar-responsive circuitry in the brain is therefore hardwired to prioritize calorie seeking over taste quality,” de Iraujo said.
This study offers interesting insights on the brains preference to certain food types. It could also be useful for curbing excess sugar intake, thereby preventing diseases such as diabetes.
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