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It’s not your fault: your brain won’t let you resist hot chips

Vanessa Marsh, June 17, 2018 7:00PM The Courier-Mail

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Thomas Prout, 5, and his friend Timothy Behan, also 5, enjoying some hot chips. Picture: Peter Wallis media_cameraThomas Prout, 5, and his friend Timothy Behan, also 5, enjoying some hot chips. Picture: Peter Wallis


Reading level: orange

Scientists have found the reason why we can’t resist hot chips. A new study shows foods high in both carbohydrates* and fat take over our decision making. Your brain tells you to eat them, even if you don’t like them, or don’t want to.

Yale University researcher Dana Small said humans “ … evolved* to carefully define the value of a food” so that they could make decisions that helped them survive.

In ancient times, when food was scarce*, this was a valuable skill — we learned to judge what food will give us the most energy and choose that food above others.

The Yale University study found the brain’s reward centre valued fat and carbohydrate-rich foods above all others, even when offered bigger serves, sweeter foods or a favourite snack instead.

Your brain may want you to eat chips, but there are much healthier foods to try

Researchers scanned the 206 subjects’ brains while they were being shown photographs of familiar snacks with different combinations of fat, sugar and carbohydrates. When given a limited amount of money to bid on their first-choice foods, subjects were willing to pay far more for foods high in both carbohydrates and fat, showing that they really wanted them.

The researchers said the findings, published today in the science journal Cell Metabolism, could help to explain why so many people are battling obesity. In ancient times, foods high in both fat and carbohydrates were rare in nature.

Chips media_cameraThomas Prout, 5, and friend Timothy Behan, also 5, enjoying some hot chips. Picture: Peter Wallis

“The simultaneous* activation* of fat and carbohydrate signalling pathways launches an effect that human physiology* has not evolved to handle,” they wrote.

When we’re given the option of eating processed foods high in carbohydrates and fats such as hot chips and doughnuts, our brains are following that ancient survival skill, even though there are almost unlimited opportunities to eat these foods in modern life.

Thomas Prout agrees hot chips are irresistible*.

“It tends to be his favourite treat food,” mum Roslyn said.

“Every now and then we get hot chips as a treat.

“You certainly can’t stop him at one.”

Ms Prout said the love of hot chips ran in the family.

“I am partial* as well,” she said.

“I’ll tell my husband I can blame it on science now.”


Bride says ‘I do’ to doughnuts


carbohydrates: type of nutrient in food, especially in pasta, flour, rice and sugar

evolved: changed gradually over time to suit the environment

scarce: rare

simultaneous: at the same time

activation: making something happen

physiology: functions of living things

partial: favouring or liking



1. What does the brain’s reward centre value most?

2. How many people were studied and how was their brain activity measured?

3. What two nutrient types together in one food causes the problem?

4. How could our survival skill make us fat?

5. What does Thomas think about chips?


Create a script for an imagined conversation between a hot chip and a piece of fruit, arguing about which of them is better and why a human would choose to eat them over the other. Try to include some facts you learnt from the article in your script but also make it funny.

Extension: Create a profile for your hot chip character showing what they look like and listing their positive and negative traits.

Time: Allow 20 minutes

Curriculum links: English, Science, Drama, Visual Art


After reading the article, with a partner, highlight as many connectives as you can find in pink. Discuss if these are being used as conjunctions, or to join ideas and create flow.

QUESTION: Can you think of any ways you could still enjoy some foods with fat and carbohydrates without risking your health?

Use full sentences to explain your ideas.

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