Summer 2008: Of Note

Monkeys Ease Stress by Snacking, Too

Comfort food—it’s not just for humans anymore

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By Mary J. Loftus

Mashed potatoes and gravy, macaroni and cheese, hand-dipped chocolate milk shakes—we all have our favorite comfort foods, which are usually rich and creamy, high in fat and calories, and comforting only if you’re not standing on a scale.

Primates appear to have their comfort foods as well, researchers at Yerkes National Primate Research Center have discovered. Neuroscientist Mark Wilson and his team installed feeders with a constant supply of banana-flavored pellets high in sugar and fat—the monkey version of comfort food—to examine the connection between psychological stress and overeating.

Normally, the high-status female monkeys ate more than the lower status monkeys, even when food was readily available to all. Of course, that’s when the only choice was regular high-fiber, low-fat food. When the banana pellets were offered, the subordinates ate significantly more than the dominant females, day and night, in a comfort-feeding frenzy.

Researchers believe the high-fat foods help block the release of stress hormones, such as cortisol, or trigger reward pathways in the brain. Ben & Jerry’s, anyone?

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Summer 2008

Of Note