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Are we hard-wired to enjoy chocolate cake and sugary treats?

choc-cake2The Telegraph reports that scientists from the Institute of Clinical Physiology at Pisa in Italy have found that some of us do respond more compulsively than others to sugary and fatty foods.  They monitored the brain reaction of subjects confronted by rich, sugary foods, and found that some people experienced a lower pleasure response than others.  Even a picture of chocolate cake was enough to send the pleasure centres in some subjects’ brains into spasms, whereas it scarcely registered in others.

I can guess why our ancestors might have evolved with a preference for energy-rich foods.  Those attracted to such foods might have thereby increased their survival chances, and it could help explain why such foods are popular with so many people today.  On the other hand, I rather suspect that conditioning and experience might play a part, too.  Many of Britain’s war babies, brought up under World War II rationing, grew up regarding confectionary as a luxury treat and developed a sweet tooth in consequence.  On the other hand, I know people whose childhood came after sweet rationing was ended, and who regard savouries as a treat.  Many of the latter prefer to finish a meal with Welsh rarebit or biscuits and cheese, rather than the puddings preferred by the former.  I myself eat two squares of dark, cocoa-rich chocolate every day, but I rarely eat cakes, pastries or puddings.  It’s not that I don’t like them, just that I don’t think I should eat them.  It’s different at Christmas, of course, because there’s a great deal to be said for stimulating our dietary pleasure centres in the middle of the darkest and coldest part of the year.  In fact just thinking about it improves my mood immensely…


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