28 July 2011

Feeling down? Then eat some fat!

Supports Chapter 26: Diet and the brain

When you are feeling down what is the most likely comfort food you would choose? Something carbohydrate-based and sweet? In fact, according to researchers from University of Leuven, Belgium, in a study in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, the best mood-enhancer is fat.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, the team led by Lukas Van Oudenhove, MD., PhD charted specific areas of the brain which are known to light up when a person is sad. For the study, they recruited 12 healthy individuals, none of whom was obese. They were then given an infusion of a fatty acid emulsion or saline solution via a feeding tube straight into their stomachs. This meant that taste was not involved and the participants did not know whether they were receiving saline or fat.

The fat was used because most comfort foods, such as chocolate, have a high fat content.

The researchers found that the levels of sadness among those fed the fat was approximately 50% lower compared to those fed saline solution, and say:
"These findings increase our understanding of the interplays among emotions, hunger, food intake and meal-induced sensations in general which may have important implications for a wide range of disorders including obesity, eating disorders, and depression."

In interview, a co-author, Giovanni Cizza, MD., said that he believes that the gut must be talking to the brain in some way:
"We did not know if you put fat in the stomach without pleasant stimulus, it could modulate our emotions ... There must be a way in which the gut talks to the brain."

The areas of the brain that get activated or suppressed as a result of emotion and mood were impacted by fatty acid emulsion. These fats reduced some of the emotion or neural changes, and this is a phenomenon that many patients have described.
"Many things in obesity have been said to be psychological and this adds to the body of evidence that something physical is going on."

Unfortunately, the recommendation to come from this study wasn’t that, perhaps, people who are sad or depressed might benefit from eating more fat, as you might have supposed, but that if scientists can identify what is going on, there might be a potential for new drug developments!

Oh, well, you can't win them all!

Van Oudenhove L, McKie S, Lassman D, et al. Fatty acid-induced gut-brain signaling attenuates neural and behavioral effects of sad emotion in humans. J Clin Invest. 2011. doi:10.1172/JCI46380.


Anonymous said...

I prefer to chew the fat the old fashioned way, preferably with roast and gravy. :)

Anonymous said...

To Barry from Anna:

I was wondering whether you could be truly "addicted" to carbohydrates? My problem is that I overeat/ binge on a regular basis. I have managed, however, to stick to what you and Dr Kwasniewski (I too am Polish) advocate for 10 days now without difficulties, but because I eat soooo much (4 scrambled eggs for breakfast), I haven't lost any weight yet. What is it that I should limit the consumption of to lose the weight (I only want to lose 3kg). Thanks a lot for your help. Regards, Anna.

Barry Groves said...

Hello Anna

Yes, it is possible - indeed very likely - that you could be addicted to carbohydrates. William Dufty, in his book, Sugar Blues, says that sugar is more addictive than heroin.

That said, it looks as if your overeating is just that, rather than an addiction to carbs. Four scrambled eggs may be too much for you at one time. I can only manage three. But are you eating them on their own or on toast? If the latter, I would just ditch the toast and see how you get on.

You want to lose just 3kg. That is not a lot.

The more overweight you are the quicker the loss, and as you approach your normal weight, the loss will get progressively less. For this reason, if you are only a little overweight, you will lose weight only slowly.

If you are within the normal weight range, however, you may not lose weight at all. This is one reason why eating this way is so much healthier than eating a low-calorie diet: As it is not a starvation diet, this way of eating will not let you go underweight.

Best wishes


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your prompt response. No, the eggs are on their own without any bread.
I'm afraid I'm (just) within the "healthy" weight (70kg, 168cm) so that's why I may not be losing weight. I'll try not to stuff myself so much (it's partly a habit, partly comfort eating) and see how I get on. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...


I was curious as to your opinion regarding the position of honey (in particular, raw honey) as a part of a healthy diet.

While I'm aware that the content of honey is not dissimilar to that of sucrose, a recent website I've stumbled accross - http://www.honey-health.com/ - has stated some facts I was curious about, such as the digestibility and health effects of raw honey (I am assuming in moderation, though exactly what that entails I am not sure).

Any opinion or information you can lend would be most appreciated.

Kind regards,

Anonymous said...

My apologies Barry, but on further review of that website (which seems transcribed from an unknown work), the writer also suggests (uncitedly) that prehistoric man was vegetarian (his 'new' carnivorous attitude being 'perversion') and also that rabbits can be induced to live on meat. Unless it entertains you, you needn't waste time on my previous question, haha.

- Matthew

Barry Groves said...


My feelings about honey - and I was a beekeeper for 20 years - is that it is no better than table sugar.

The website you mentioned talks of invert sugars, dextrose and levulose. I think they are trying to baffle you with fancy names because these sugars are exactly what table sugar (sucrose) becomes when it is digested: dextrose is just another name for glucose and levulose is another name for fructose. Any other constituents are there fortuitously and vary widely from hive to hive.

Incidentally, while we are on this subject, Royal Jelly, which is sold to an unsuspecting public at great profit to the sellers, is a protein. Just like all other proteins it is broken down into its component amino acids in our digestion. These, when absorbed, add no more to our well-being than a similar weight of any other protein.


Serene said...

See, a little fat never hurt anyone.
Keyword being LITTLE.
I suppose some fats are better than others however.

Barry Groves said...

Yes, Serene, the best fats are those 'saturated' animal fats that we are told to avoid.

And there is no limit: I reckon to get at least 60% of calories from fats. Much less than that and you start to eat too much carb - and as you must know, eating carbs can lead to anxiety and panic attacks, as illustrated at my http://www.second-opinions.co.uk/hypoglycemia.html


mindhorizon said...

They might be onto something. I tend to binge on carby items once a month or so and feel some benefit from doing so. On closer analysis, my favorite binge item is also high-fat, being made with coconut oil. So, what is it really I'm craving: the carbs or the fats? Perhaps it's possible that what I'm really craving and what helps me is the fat, and the most effective source I've found comes with the carbs? It would be interesting to see if those cravings can be satisfied with in a high-fat low-carb way next time they come around.

Barry Groves said...

Hi Mindhorizon

I think the craving is more likely to be for the carbs, as sugar has long been known to be addictive: it raises serotonin levels which makes you feel good.

That said, fatty things always have more taste than their low-fat equivalents. Perhaps you crave tastier food.


Sue said...

Fat tax, should be a sugar tax surely? I hope they don't do it here http://uk.news.yahoo.com/fat-tax-launch-leaves-lot-empty-shelves-154535895.html

Barry Groves said...

I couldn't agree more. It's come about by a combination of ignorance on the part of the Danish government and the incompetence of their advisers. I think they must have been taught be the same people who teach ours!

I'm working on a paper to show that not only are saturated fats the most beneficial to health generally, they are also the least fattening!

My MP is the PM (David Cameron). Both he and Andrew Lansley have a copy of my book, Trick & Treat: How 'healthy eating' is making us ill. They will both get copies of my article when it is written. It will also be signed by many scientists (largely members of THINCS (http://www.thincs.org)


Anonymous said...

To Anna from Michal

Hi, I am polish too. I eat 3 - 4 scrambled eggs for breakfast as well :) with bacon. From the time I cut sugar to about 20-30 grams per day, my weight falling. Before I had a few fruits daily - this was too much for my body.

Sue said...

how about this then! http://uk.news.yahoo.com/diet-craze-leaves-norwegians-starved-butter-192445874.html

Barry Groves said...

Oh dear, Sue! What have I done?

Norway's premier health magazine Mat & Helse (Food and Health) published a 6-page article about me and my dietary ideas recently.
(See the article HERE. You can translate it into English with the help of http://translate.google.com)


Sue said...

Thanks Barry, I've never used google translate before, I didn't think it would work as well as that. An excellent interview, let's hope you can get a lot more articles like this published and yes it does look like the butter shortage could be your fault!

Anonymous said...

Dear Barry, what is your opinion on juycing wheat or barley gras? Also we have 5 years old who cannot shake colds and ear infections, any advice please? Thank you Eva

Barry Groves said...

Hello Eva

I really don't think that juicing shoots is of much use to health.

Your 5-year old's problems could well be lack of vitamin D. "D-ficiency" is rife in western society because of the ridiculous "don't go out in the sun" advice. But Vit D is essential for many things including a strong immune system.

If her conditions are seasonal - worse in the winter months - that is pretty conclusive as the likelihood of colds, etc, are compounded in wintertime when the strength of UVB, from which our bodies make Vit D, is not strong enough to be of use. To check, get your GP to do a blood test for "25(OH)D".

Vit D is only stored in the body for a couple of weeks. So a safe sunbed or supplementation with D3 between the end of September and the end of March is a good idea, I think, if you don't live in the tropics, even if you don't suffer colds, etc, in the winter months.

Incidentally, I don't advise supplementing with the vitamin D your doctor might prescribe. This is usually D2, which is not as good as D3.


Anonymous said...

Dear Barry, than you so much for your repply. I am now reading your book and can hardly put it down, I bought 4 for couple of my friends and family, so looking forward to some interesting discussions. Merry Christmas and thank you. Eva

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Barry Groves said...

As the previous comment was a about personal problem, I have removed it and will answer it directly.

To ask me about personal issues, please use my email address: barry @ second-opinions.co.uk (without the spaces)

Anonymous said...

Hi Barry-thank's so much for taking the time to reply. Much appreciated!


Personal Fitness Trainer said...

Nice and informative article. Thanks for sharing.
Dan Bennett
MBF Personal Training