Georgia State study reveals sweets help control eating habits

Research reveals that sweets can help control a person's appetite. Photo Credit|Dominique Times
Research reveals that sweets can help control a person's appetite. Photo Credit|Dominique Times
Research reveals that sweets can help control a person’s appetite.
Photo by Dominique Times | The Signal

Sweeter foods are more memorable and can determine how often a person eats, according to a study conducted by Georgia State researchers.

In a study conducted early in 2015 by Georgia State, Georgia Regents University and Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center, the brain forms the memory of a meal after eating sweet foods, and this memory affects how soon a person will have their next meal.

Georgia State researcher Marise Parent and her colleague, Yoko Henderson, found that neurons in the dorsal hippocampus, the part of the brain necessary for episodic memory, are activated when sweets are consumed.

“Many people feel that a small sweet at the end of a meal helps them eat less and eat more nutritional foods,” Parent said. “I personally like a small piece of chocolate.”

Their research began by feeding rats a meal of sweetened solutions, either sucrose or saccharin, which increased the expression of the protein (Arc) in dorsal hippocampal neurons, a marker that memories are being formed.

Parents’ research suggests forming memories of meals leads to a decrease in snacking, which lessens a person’s chances of becoming obese.

“We think episodic memory can be used to control eating behavior,” Parent said in a University release. “Decisions like ‘I probably won’t eat now. I had a big breakfast.’ We make decisions based on our memory of what and when we ate.”

There is a direct correlation between snacking, eating small portions of food between regular meals, and obesity, and individuals who are obese snack more frequently than those who are not, according to a study published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives.

The memory of what a person recently ate influences how much that person will eat more than cues associated with hunger, according to a study published online at Psychology Today.

During the researcher’s previous work, rats’ dorsal hippocampal neurons were temporarily inactivated after a sucrose meal, the period during which the memory of the meal forms. As a result, the rats ate their next meal sooner and in a greater quantity.

Other research conducted by the University of Birmingham in the U.K., suggests this applies to humans as well. For example, episodic memory formation can be disrupted when a person watches television while eating.

According to the University release, the research team hopes to extend their study to determine whether nutritionally balanced liquid or solid diets consisting of protein, fat and carbohydrates have similar effects on memory formation.

“Everyone has a sweet tooth,” Georgia State student Rashidat Akande said, “so it’s nice to know there are some benefits to eating sweet foods.”