Food & Drink » Glenda Bartosh on Food

We are what we eat

A flip through the science behind our food

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Safety in numbers

• The other part of the evolutionary justification about food safety is something my husband and I joke about every time we find a container of mystery leftovers in the back of the fridge and we can't for the life of us remember when we made it. And in some cases, it could well be for the life of us. You try it, we say to each other, applying the same principle that drove medieval monarchs to use food tasters: you eat it first, and I'll check in in 20 minutes to see how you're doing. Evolutionary justification — and survival — through safety in numbers.

Why some people can't say no

• So you just can't stop eating chocolate cake even though you're packing on the pounds and know you should stop? Now there's scientific proof that your problem isn't just a matter of willpower. In one of his lab experiments, Paul Kenny, an associate professor at the Scripps Research Institute in Florida, discovered that rats would choose appetizing, high-calorie foods like cheesecake or chocolate over an endless offering of bland food, even when they knew it meant getting a nasty shock. Studies show that overeating "juices up" the reward systems in our brains to the point that, for some people, their brain's system that tells them to stop eating is literally overpowered. Could you pass me another piece of that cake?

• Don't blame processed food for obesity. Humans have been processing foods for ages, starting with roasting meat 1.8 million years ago. Bread is processed food, as is peanut butter, which goes back to the 15th century, when Aztecs were making a paste of ground raw peanuts.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who certainly endorses this Bertrand Russell quote: "Do not feel absolutely certain of anything."