Foods that have both fat and carbohydrates are more rewarding, calorie for calorie, than foods with either energy source alone, according to new research.
Fatty foods like cheese trigger one pathway of signals to reward centers in the brain while carb-loaded foods like grain or a lollipop take another route, says Dana Small, professor of psychiatry at Yale University and senior author of a new paper on the research.
“Our study shows that when the signals are combined they make foods more reinforcing,” Small says.
What makes this finding interesting, says Small, is that foods high in fat and carbohydrate do not exist in nature with only one exception: breast milk.
This makes sense, says Small, since it is important for infants to learn to suckle in order to survive.
“In the modern food environment that is rife with processed foods high in fat and carbohydrate like donuts, French fries, chocolate bars, and potato chips, this reward potentiation may backfire to promote overeating and obesity,” Small says.
Additional coauthors are from Yale and the Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research in Germany.
The research appears in the journal