This Is the Reason That Food Tastes Better When You’re Hungry

Have you ever noticed that when you skip lunch (by choice or because of a hectic day) you can't stop thinking about what you're going to eat next? Thoughts of a delicious roast dinner or your favourite chocolate bar flood in and your only goal is to get your hands on your next meal. When you do finally sit down to enjoy your hard-earned dinner, the first bites are absolutely delightful, even more so than usual. But why is that? It turns out that there's a science to it.

How does it work?
In a recent study conducted by the National Insitute for Physiological Sciences in Japan, researchers found that after fasting, usually undesirable sour and bitter tastes were more tolerable, while there is a greater preference for sweet-tasting food. These changes stem directly from specific Agouti-related peptide-expressing neurons in the hypothalamus (important for regulating body temperature, hormones and appetite). In a study of mice, the researchers were able to activate these neurons to test whether or not taste was affected after a period of fasting. Surprisingly, the results show that changes in taste are caused in two pathways in the brain. Their sensitivity to sweetness was increased, while an awareness for bitter and unpleasant tastes was decreased, meaning that overall food was more enjoyable after a period of fasting.

Why is it beneficial?
Well for starters, it could mean that it's easier to steer towards healthier options when fasting if your brain is telling you that most foods generally taste better. It's also the beginning of an investigation into ways to control our taste preferences to enhance our health as a culture and reduce diet-related illnesses. I mean, can you imagine if a plate of veggies could taste as good as a tub of ice cream? Okay, maybe that's going too far, but co-author of the study Yasuhiko Minokoshi explains that "The next steps will be to investigate whether these hypothalamic neuronal pathways are altered in pathophysiological conditions such as diabetes and obesity". Given that 12.5 million Australians are considered overweight or obese, findings such as these are incredible resources for further research into the way we crave and consume food.

If you're someone who's experienced with intermittent fasting, this sensation might not come as much of a shock to you. For everyone else, these new findings are food for thought (literally). The next time you're ravenous by 6 pm, an interesting experiment might be to choose a healthy option that usually wouldn't excite your tastebuds. Put science to the test to see if it rivals your fave cheat meal.

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