Your gut is telling you what to eat — and you're not listening
Humans can learn something from the nutritional wisdom of animals.
By Julia Belluz

By Julia Belluz at

Food Hangover

There’s a whole field of study dedicated to the post-meal malaise they were describing: It turns out the scientific term for “food hangover” is “negative post-ingestive feedback” — or the body telling you that you’ve done it a disservice with the food you just ate. 

“Feedback can range along a continuum from satiety (satisfying) to surfeit to malaise including nausea,” explained Fred Provenza, a professor emeritus at Utah State University who’s spent his life studying, among other things, nutritional wisdom in animals. “Excesses and deficits of nutrients cause malaise, as do excesses of toxins.”

Our food is lying to us

I came across the concept in a compelling new book called The Dorito Effect. Journalist Mark Schatzker tracks how divorced we’ve become from listening to what our bodies are telling us. In nature, flavor and nutrition go hand in hand; for animals, flavors are proxies for nutritional requirements. Research has shown that the same was true for humans — until flavorings and food additives made it harder for us to discern anything about the nutritional value of food.

Today, artificially flavored foods may have the veneer of health, but they’re too often nutritionally bankrupt  delivering calories and sugar without sating our bodies’ needs.

“This is food that’s truly delicious in the moment,” he told Vox, “that has a lot of flavor because we put it there, but it doesn’t tell the kind of nutritional story that real food does.”

The sensation of being satisfied to the full (i.e., satiety) occurs when animals ingest adequate kinds and amounts of nutritious foods, and animals acquire preferences (mild to strong) for foods that cause satiety. Unpleasant feelings of physical discomfort (i.e., malaise) are caused by excesses of nutrients and toxins and by nutrient deficits, and animals acquire aversions (mild to strong) to foods that cause malaise. What constitutes excesses and deficits depends on each animal’s morphology, physiology, and nutritional requirements.

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