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Supersized choice: how food is impacting your decisions

How is the food you eat impacting your decisions? It turns out, maybe more than you might think.

Written by: Jonathan Dunnett

Fries, shakes, burgers and maybe a bit of cheesecake for dessert.

Sounds tasty, doesn’t it? Maybe not, depending on where you come from in the world, but, for a North American diet, it often checks a lot of boxes.

Even if you’re not from North America, consider: what is it that you crave? What sugary, sweet, salty or other tasty delight is it that you want?

It’s clear, our desire for things like sugar is on the rise: as author Mark Bittman recently noted, “Global sugar consumption has nearly tripled in the past half-century.” Obesity is up nearly the same, and it’s killing us. It may also be killing our decision making abilities.

What does research say?

Professor Soyoung Q Park‘s research has demonstrated that food can impact thoughts and decisions, as is explored in this DW Documentary:

As we see in the video, the subject who consumed more protein was more tolerant of an unfair offer. This is further detailed in this paper. There was also evidence from a Cambridge University study that showed the same connection with tryptophan as was seen in Professor Park’s research.

Other examples of what research has to say on the matter:

  • Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman concluded that hungry or “ego-depleted” judges tend to give less careful consideration to details of the cases, and would more often reach the safe position of denying parole requests.
  • Using three different types of rewards (food, money, and song downloads), a research team from the University of Dundee discovered that when people were hungry they would choose a smaller reward immediately rather than a larger bounty in the future. In fact, the team noted that when presented with the option of receiving the reward now versus double the award at some point in the future, participants would usually volunteer to wait for 35 days to earn a double bonus, but when they were hungry, they said they would only wait three days.
  • results suggest that serotonin mediates decision-making in health volunteers by modulating the processing of reward cues, perhaps represented within the orbitofrontal cortex.
  • There is a growing appreciation of the role of the gut microbiota in all aspects of health and disease, including brain health. Indeed, roles for the bacterial commensals in various psychiatric and neurological conditions, such as depression, autism, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease, are emerging.

So, what should we eat?

It can become quite overwhelming very quickly trying to wrap your mind around all of this and potentially tempting to just shut down or ignore the problem. Thankfully, there are some simple guides out there and the good news is, you’re probably already eating these foods in your diet:

Source: Harvard Health

Other foods like chocolate, whole grains, avocados are also said to be positive contributors to brain function.

While it’s tough to always eat the right thing, this is yet another area that we need to ensure we do our best in to help us be better decision makers.

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