For a new study published in the journal Cell Metabolism, researchers took MRI scans of people’s brains as they looked at pictures of food. They found that the reward center in their brains lit up more in response to those that contain both fats and carbs (like chocolate) than those with only fats (like cheese) or only carbs (like bread).
Fats and carbs both release dopamine in the brain, says study author Alexandra DiFeliceantonio, Ph.D., an associate research scientist at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. When you indulge in treats with both macros, there’s an even stronger effect. That’s why people find them more rewarding.
Rats tend to overeat when they snack on carbs and fat rather than one or the other, but DiFeliceantonio notes that people’s eating behaviors are much more complex. “There are a lot of factors that control how much someone eats in a single bout,” she says, like whether they’re stressed, happy, tired, or distracted.
It's okay to give in to your ice cream or pizza cravings sometimes, but the fact that the fat-carb combo feels more rewarding could lead you to overeat. Being mindful of why you want those foods—and the power they can have over you—could help you keep your intake in check.