Do You Eat Breakfast?

Courtney Sadler
Psych 256
Blog Post 1

Throughout my childhood my parents, teachers, and even social media have always been there nagging us and making sure we eat a good breakfast before going on about our days. There are many areas of the brain involved with appetite and hunger although our eating habits could also have had an association with those habits of our ancestors. Food in general is a necessity to live therefore I can imagine that getting enough food is very important to staying as healthy as possible. What would cause us to eat as soon as we wake up whether we are hungry or not. Although there is no single area of the brain responsible for sensing and responding to food, the areas of the brain associated with the desire and regulation of hunger were the hypothalamus, the orbitofrontal cortex, and the amygdala (Freberg, 2010).     Although there is no single area of the brain responsible for sensing and responding to food, the areas of the brain associated with the desire and regulation of hunger were the hypothalamus, the orbitofrontal cortex, and the amygdala. The area I found to be most closely related to hunger was the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is a major regulatory center for hunger, thirst, sexual behavior and aggression (Freberg, 2010). There are two areas in the hypothalamus that control hunger. The part of the hypothalamus that causes you to feel hungry when stimulated is the lateral hypothalamus. If you were to lesion the lateral hypothalamus, you would have a lack of hunger if any at all. The second part, the ventromedial hypothalamus gives you that full feeling when stimulated. Unlike the lateral hypothalamus, a lesion to the ventromedial hypothalamus would give the patient a complete lack of the fullness sensation (Valenstein, et al., 1970). Recent research has also shown us that the orbitofrontal cortex is involved with detection of how pleasant or good food tastes to us and the amygdala controls the wanting and desire for food (Felsted, et al., 2010). This observation may play an important role in understanding the decision making involved in our choice to eat breakfast and what we include in that meal.  (Green & Nachtigal, 2010).
There are also three types of receptors on the tongue with sensory connections in the cortex. They are the thermoreceptors (sense temperature), mechanoreceptors (touch or texture), and nociceptors, (sense pain). These receptors are responsible for detecting qualities or characteristics of food (taste, smell, temperature, texture, and spicy/sweet).  The flavor of the food is then compounded by the cortex where the brain fuses together the senses from these receptors. Research has shown that connected areas of the brain then determine the intensity of the desire for that flavor and the degrees of hunger (Green & Nachtigal, 2010).
The primary method used to determine the interconnectivity of the brain areas that also show the components of flavor when eating is by the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) Shown by a study conducted by D. M. Small world and K. Rudenga (2010). In this study liquids containing a potentially nutritious substance (sugar) as well as a potential “toxin”, capsaicin were fed to (16) subjects. Capsaicin is a compound that once in contact with any tissue will cause a burning sensation. The reason they chose to use the capsaicin is because it has been shown to activate the thermoreceptors and nocireceptors that I noted earlier in this blog post, detect temperature and pain. Studies have shown that the same part of the cortex responds to other basic tastes as well. These researchers have discovered that there are “different” connections based on the significance of the taste. Good foods activate one set of connections, while what is perceived as a toxic food activates another part of the brain (Rudenga & Small, 2010) Taste alone however can’t determine whether a person chooses to continue or stop eating. The results of this study showed that those who had eaten the potentially nutritious stimulus had greater connectivity than that of the capsaicin between the anterior ventral insula and the hypothalamus therefore showing a connection with eating certain foods over others. For example choosing sugary cereal over bitter fruits in the morning. (Rudenga & small, 2010)
Overall, the decision making process involved with whether or not we eat in the morning and what we eat can be attributed to certain areas of the brain. I do however believe the decision to eat breakfast in the morning before worrying about the rest of our day could be a survival instinct, and could help influence what foods we eat based on what types of foods kept those in prehistoric times alive long enough to reproduce and carry on such traits or “tastes”. It’s possible that they consumed meats from animals they hunted to survive so it could impact our decision to have steak or sausage for breakfast but then again maybe those eggs you had for breakfast last week gave you gas so you chose to avoid them and went with the cereal instead which in turn has sugars that your body perceives as “good”.

Freberg, L.A. (2010). Discovering Biological Psychology (2nd edition). New York, NY: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Valenstein, Elliot S.; Cox, Verne C.; Kakolewski, Jan W., (1970) Reexamination of the Role of the Hypothalamus in Motivation. Psychological Review, Vol 77

K. Rudenga, B. Green, D. Nachtigal, D. M. Small (2010) “Evidence for an Integrated Oral Sensory Module in the Human Anterior Ventral Insula.” Chemical Senses.

J. Felsted, F. Chouinard-Decorte, X Ren, D. M. Small (2010) “Genetically Determined Brain Response to a Primary Food Reward.” Journal of Neuroscience


3 thoughts on “Do You Eat Breakfast?

  1. Christopher Lee Robertson

    I found this blog very interesting as over the past year I have had to change pretty much every eating habit that I learned throughout my life and or inherited from my ancestors. I always loved sugary foods and beverages, as well as breads. In march I learned I was diabetic and with that diagnosis my eating habits had to change completely. I went from eating two or three large meals a day to eating smaller meals and at least a small something every two hours. Stopping to eat every two hours even when you are not hungry is harder then it sounds. Through cutting almost all sugar out of my diet, as well as most carbohydrates I am managing my blood glucose levels, and have lost forty-eight pounds. I’m not sure if my inherited eating habits were healthy for my caveman ancestors or not, but for a modern man they certainly needed some tweeking. I am healthier now that I am eating against the grain so to speak then I ever was when eating based off of my ubringing or heredity. So maybe not everything we inherit is good, just a little food for thought.

  2. Sabrina Nicole Angelique Cooper

    You’re much better off preferring the bitter, the savory and the sour flavors to the sugary sweet stuff anyway. Even though our bodies and our brains need sugar to function, there are so many foods and drinks that contain excessive amounts of added sugar that it is detrimental to our health and our minds (Aubele & Reynolds, 2011). Unfortunately, I love sweets and tend to prefer breakfast foods that are sugary (and not in a natural, fruit sugar way). The study cited in the initial blog post would explain why I am drawn to sugary cereals and waffles drenched in sweet maple syrup. It is a natural response in my own brain to the perceived nutritious value of the sweet stuff, even though eating so much of it is actually going to negatively effect my ability to think and may increase my stress levels by increasing the levels of cortisol in my body (Aubele & Reynolds, 2011).

    Aubele, T., & Reynolds, S. (2011, October 18th).Why a Sugar High Leads to a Brain Low. Retrieved from

  3. gat5038

    I found this post to be extremely interesting. Mainly so because, I prefer the hot capsaicin flavors to the sweet or bland tasting flavors of most morning cereals. What you call the “sugars that your body perceives as good”, do not appeal to my appetites. This has applied my whole life. While other children were eating their candy bars and guzzling down soda pop, I instead enjoyed peppered jerky and bitter tea. I also liked Lemonade which is sugary but it is almost like I was tricking my brain by drinking the mouth-puckering type. The more sour the better in my opinion.
    There has been lots of research to the health benefits of capsaicin. One only needs to GOOGLE the terms capsaicin and health to find plenty of studies and testing over the benefits of adding spicy flavors to your diet. Things like reduced risk of tumors (even cancer), better sex life, weight loss, overall higher immunity levels and even pain relief.
    Topically applied capsaicin depletes our supply of substance P, a nerve chemical in cells that transmit pain to our brains. The pain trigger an endorphin response from our bodies which gives us a sense of euphoria and general wellness. This is true for ingestion as well. The “burn” is more intense but so is the body’s response to deal with it. Enjoy your sugary cereals, I eat my eggs loaded with hot sauce.

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