Dear Judy, here are 3 ways your body knows what to eat:
Taste: neurons that respond to taste signal your insula -which tracts sensations in your body. There are 5 basic tastes: bitterness, sweet, salty, sour and unami (savory). (We know which one is your favorite . . .)
Feel: the texture sensations of the food in the mouth.
Gut neurons: (Yes, you have neurons in your intestines). They are called neuropod cells and respond to amino acids, sugars and fatty acids, and send signals to the brain through a cluster of ganglia know as the nodose ganglia. (yes, Judy, you have nodose ganglia). This in turn triggers dopamine in your brain, which is a reward chemical that motivates you to eat more. The good and bad news is this is a subconscious signal which triggers release of dopamine that affects your eating choices.
A combination of these gut signals, taste and feel in your mouth entice you to eat certain foods and you don’t even know this is happening!
We also learn what foods to prefer. Partly cultural and partly bio-chemical as food impacts both our metabolism and our brain. This is especially true of sugar.
Humans are wired to eat food that raises blood sugar (blood glucose). In part sweet food signaled it was safe to eat when humans foraged for food and it gives energy to continue foraging. Research studies show that sugar actually helps brain neurons function.
And when sugar is consumed, there’s a surge of dopamine. Dopamine, often called a feel- good chemical, rewards you to to repeat the experience. (Dopamine is implicated in addictive behaviors)
Talk to yourself! Crave sardines over sugar . . .
How do you reduce sugar cravings? Using the dopamine trigger you can learn to change eating choices by pairing foods together . . . kinda like Pavlov’s dogs . . .
1. What we tell ourselves about food can impact how they taste. This won’t change your mind about tastes you can’t tolerate, so pick food with a more “neutral” appeal and tell yourself it is good for your brain or your health. Do this enough times with conviction, the “neutral” food will start to taste better. The process behind this involves the insula and nucleus accumbins, parts of the brain’s reward system.
2. Pair the “neutral” food with a carbohydrate that slightly raises your blood glucose, gives a dose of dopamine and you’ll be rewarded for eating the more neutral food.
For example: Click here for Part I and the healthier foods listed (J-I will add link when part 1 is PUB) alongside foods that raise glucose but are not sweet (rice, potatoes, meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy that is not sweetened)
Our learned response to food is good news because we are never too old to learn new behaviors and make new choices.
Click here for Huberman Lab podcast “Nutrients for Brain Health and Performance