The Science of Eating
Jun 10, 2019 Cedars-Sinai Staff
What lures us to a pink box of warm donuts, or to a bowl of fresh, shiny strawberries?
How do our bodies react to different foods and send us signals about what to eat?
The answers are often complicated and may have more to do with biology than you think.
A group of Cedars-Sinai researchers who study food's effects on our brains and bodies is looking at how and why we crave, choose, enjoy, and process food.
"For most of us, food is not just nutrition, it's everything—it's social, it's how we bond, how we share ideas, and how we spend time with our families."
It started with lunch
The Gastronomic Sciences Consortium began as an informal lunch club for researchers to compare their work in appetite, taste, and smell.
The group, led by nephrologist Dr. Leon Fine, recently presented at a symposium at the Basque Culinary Institute in San Sebastián, Spain, where they happened to enjoy a few meals together, too.
"Yes, we're all foodies, but actually what brought us together is that we're all studying the body's response to food and appetite," says Suzanne Devkota, PhD.
"People care about that stuff—they want to understand their bodies better."
Based on their existing and ongoing research, the group hopes to pair with chefs and food manufacturers to study how the production and preparation of food affects how we taste and metabolize it.
"We have something to offer the culinary community in terms of our scientific understanding of appetite, food preference, food-seeking behaviors, gastrointestinal function, and more," says Dr. Fine.
"Ultimately, the Gastronomic Sciences Consortium hopes to demystify the complex functions behind something we all do every day: eat."
The group's core members devote part of their research to matters of food and our bodies.
- Devkota studies the microbiome, and whether fermented foods have a positive effect on the body's colony of bacteria, fungi, and viruses. She is also interested in how doctors can help make nutrient-replacement meals more appealing to patients who have to be on liquid diets.
- Celine Riera, PhD, studies the brain circuits that affect obesity. She is researching how our sense of smell impacts our appetite and metabolism.
- Dr. Fine, director of the Program in the History of Medicine, studies the history of appetite. He owns some of the oldest texts about molecular gastronomy dating to the early 1800s.
- Dr. Stephen Pandol is director of Basic and Translational Pancreas Research. His lab studies the sensors in our GI tract that regulate digestion, and whether manipulating them could impact appetite and metabolism.
Ultimately, the Gastronomic Sciences Consortium hopes to demystify the complex functions behind something we all do every day: eat.
"For most of us, food is not just nutrition, it's everything—it's social, it's how we bond, how we share ideas, and how we spend time with our families," says Devkota.
The researchers aim not only to encourage good health, but to encourage the enjoyment of a good meal.
"It's all in the service of changing what we eat, the way our bodies use calories, and enjoying it, too," says Dr. Pandol.