LONDON—People who don’t eat breakfast tend to overeat and make poor dietary choices throughout the day, according to new research presented at Neuroscience 2012, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.
Scientists at Imperial College obtained multiple magnetic resonance images (MRIs) of 21 volunteers who had not eaten anything before arriving for the tests. On one visit they were first given a 750-calorie breakfast before the scans began; on another visit they received no breakfast. Lunch was always served after the scans.
In the MRIs of those who had not eaten breakfast, the scientists discovered a variation in the pattern of activity in the orbitofrontal cortex—the area right above the eyes that can affect decisions regarding the pleasantness and reward value of food. The scientists reported that when fasting participants were shown pictures of high-calorie food, this brain area was “activated," a reaction less strong when they had eaten breakfast.
They also noted their ability to use brain MRIs to predict which individuals appear primed to respond strongly to high-calorie foods. This suggests the orbitofrontal cortex may play a vital role in determining how people make dietary choices. They said the study also adds to previous research that indicates fasting may be a poor way to lose weight as it seems to create a “bias" in the brain toward seeking a high-calorie food reward.
“Through both the participants’ MRI results and observations of how much they ate at lunch, we found ample evidence that fasting made people hungrier, and increased the appeal of high-calorie foods and the amount people ate," said Tony Goldstone, MD, PhD, from the MRC Clinical Science Centre at London’s Imperial College.