Bonjour tout le monde! Our time in Paris is wrapping up, and I can’t decide exactly how that makes me feel. One the one hand, I’m so ready to be home and see friend and family that I’ve missed dearly. But, on the other hand, there a few things that I will miss about Paris. I’ll miss the gorgeous architecture that can be found down every street, the fresh baguettes that I’ve been eating for lunch almost every day, and lots of other aspects of Paris that make this city so special. The one thing that I’ll miss most of all, though, is being able to grab a classic French macaron whenever I want.
France has a plethora of staple foods and sweet treats, but macarons are my favorite by far. They’re sweet meringue-based sandwich cookies that have some sort of crème or jelly in the middle. If you’ve never tried one before, then you’re missing out. If you’re ever visiting Paris and looking for a high quality French macaron, I would wholeheartedly recommend trying a few from Christophe Roussel’s shop near Sacred Coeur.
By using flavor combinations that range from classic vanilla to more intricate passion tarragon, Christophe Roussel has designed a fantastic dessert that pleases most palates. There’s not a single flavor that I have tried that I don’t like, but, in my opinion, their dark chocolate-coated caramel macaron is the best. I
have visited their shop a few times and gotten an assorted box during each visit that I have intended to share with all of my classmates, but I never have. This isn’t because I’m selfish or greedy, though. It’s because, even when I’m trying to eat healthier, I can’t control myself from eating most, if not all, of them in one sitting! It makes me feel like a weak-willed foodie with little self-control, but I’d like to think that a lot of people can relate to me. Sometimes it seems almost impossible to just eat one sweet! Other people, though, find self-control a much easier concept and can resist macaron binge-eating sessions. What makes them different from me? Why does it seem like macarons have such power over my willpower? Interestingly enough, one of our classes recently analyzed a paper that explained the impact that reward systems in the brain have over regular hunger feeding behaviors in mice (Denis et al. 2015). Although this study was super intriguing, I wanted to learn more about this phenomenon specifically in humans, so I did some PubMed searching. Here’s what I found…
The overconsumption of foods with high levels of sugar and fat overrides thenormal mechanisms that regulate appetite, which leads to people with these diets eating for pleasure rather than nourishment alone (Wiss et al. 2016). To explain this process, researchers have created a “food hypothesis” which proposes that exposure to higher calorie foods alters the brains reward circuitry, leading to people eating these foods not because they’re hungry, but because it feels rewarding (Leigh and Morris 2016). This rewarding feeling that results from eating higher levels of sugar and fat can lead to binge-eating, and possibly even food addiction. There are some people who aren’t as susceptible to this addictive power of sugar, though. What makes them different from me, who can’t seem to eat one macaron at a time?
Ely and colleagues conducted a study to understand if there’s a difference in activation of brain regions that are involved in different people’s vulnerability of overeating sweet foods (2014). They compared brain activation in response to food cues by taking fMRI images of females who never dieted, females who had previously dieted sometime in their life, and females who were currently on a diet. These fMRI images measure the amount of blood flow in the brain when performing certain tasks, and researchers can infer that this change in blood flow means that a certain area of the brain is activated when performing that task. Their results showed that females with histories of dieting had increased activation in reward circuitry areas when showed tastier foods compared to both females currently on a diet as well as females who never diet. This relationship between groups suggests that when dieting, the vulnerability to high sugar and fat foods is temporarily reversed.
I was surprised by the results of this study. I expected the rewarding effects of higher caloric food to be more powerful in women that were dieting, but I guess it makes sense that they’re less vulnerable to the temptations of sweets because they’ve made a conscious choice to eat healthier. I think this study was strongly conducted, as well. Their choice of fMRI methods of imaging allowed the activation of specific areas of the brain to be measured while at the same time being stimulated by different foods. One thing I wish they would have done differently, though, is controlled for menstrual cycle. It has been shown in multiple studies that phases of women’s menstrual cycle affect their food cravings, so I’m not sure if that may have swayed the data at all.
As my time in Paris is coming to an end, I don’t think I’m going to want to go on a diet to prevent myself from succumbing to the temptation of the macaron. I’ll allow myself maybe one more indulgence so I can remember the sweetness of my time here. Hopefully I can learn a little bit of self-control, though, because I’m hoping to bring back a few as souvenirs for my family. They probably wouldn’t appreciate an empty macaron box. 🙂
If you ever make a trip to Paris, you really should buy a few macarons from Christophe Roussel’s shop. I promise that you won’t regret it!
Denis RP, Joly-Amado A, Webber E, Guler AD, Magnan C, Luquet S (2015) Palatability can drive feeding independent of AgRP neurons CellPress 22: 646-657.
Ely AV, Childress AR, Jagannathan K, Lowe MR (2014) Differential reward response to palatable food cues in past and current dieters: an fMRI study Obesity 22: E38-45.
Leigh SJ and Morris MJ (2016) The role of reward circuitry and food addiction in the obesity epidemic: an update Bio Psychol 16: 30376-3.
Wiss DA, Criscitelli K, Gold M, Avena N (2017) Preclinical evidence for the addition potential of highly palatable foods: current developments related to maternal influence Appetite 115: 19-27.
All of the pictures included in this post were taken by myself.
The screenshot of the Map was taken from GoogleMaps.