Dear Darwin: Our brains seek out sweets |

Dear Darwin: Our brains seek out sweets

Robert Valko
Dear Darwin
Vail, CO Colorado

Recreational drug use is at an all time “high” in our nation, but it turns out that a new kind of substance is threatening to bump crack: Chunky Monkey.

Actually, findings in a study that appeared in “Nature Neuroscience” suggest that addiction may result from the over-consumption of foods that are high in calories. In short, researchers have found that eating exceedingly enjoyable foods produces changes in the brain similar to those found in lab rats that have been given heroin or cocaine.

In a closely related news story, researchers have found that it’s best to mainline hot fudge sundaes, Baconators, Big Macs, and Eli’s strawberry cheesecake. Users can simply place their desired food in a blender, hit high, and then pour the contents into an IV bag.

This will spare people the drudgery of chewing and swallowing. Taste and teeth are overrated anyway. Folks can simply kick back in their La-Z-Boys and ingest their chocolate and vanilla fixes without burning up the yummy calories they’re taking in. This should also eliminate the need for those pesky dental visits every six months. Maybe we didn’t really need health care reform legislation after all.

Indeed, Nancy Pelosi confessed in an interview shortly after the new health care legislation was passed, that she relied heavily on dark chocolate and her “whip operation” to get the bill through. Her “whip operation” aside (I’m scared to ask), had she mainlined her ultra dark chocolate (espresso in crack-form), the health care bill probably would have gone through months ago.

OK, time to get serious. Why has evolution – our genes – wired us to get such intense pleasure from foods laden with calories and fat? Recent research has shown that our brains essentially shoot off neuronal “fireworks” when sins like Cherry Garcia and Chunky Monkey cross our palates. They cause the brain to release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is released when people have sex or use cocaine. Since similar events do not occur with a mouth full of pebbles, something needs explaining here.

First though, would you rather have a cinderblock or a bouquet of flowers in the foyer?

We find flowers more attractive than cinderblocks because some flowers are precursors to food. Our ancestors’ brains were drawn to flowers because they were flags in their environment that shouted ‘Eat apples at Joes.’ Apricots, apples, cherries, oranges and peaches, for example, all start out as beautiful blossoms before they turn into luscious fruit.

The brilliant and open-armed petals “announce” what bountiful pleasures are to come. Two million years ago, flowers were one pathway to much needed energy sources. As a result, our brains reward us when we ingest sweet fleshy things.

Salt, fat and sugar were hot commodities millions of years ago, but the body only needed them in small amounts. Because Big Macs and Cherry Garcia did not sprout from the Earth during our 6 million-year long bid to become human, nature wired our minds to capitalize on fat, sugar and salt.

Today, Main Street is blooming with wholesale fat and sugar outlets: Wendy’s, 7-11, Starbucks, McDonald’s and Krispy Creme, just to name a few. Our ancestors did not have the luxury of picking up a half-caff latte with whip at the nearest Cave-bucks.

These are the reasons we go gaga over Ghirardelli. Be careful though, legislation is currently working its way through the house and senate that will get you five to 10 for the possession of Godiva truffles.

Robert Valko is a graduate of Northwestern University. For a list of the academic sources used to write this article or to suggest column ideas, e-mail Robert at

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