So What If I Eat Brains?

Did Neanderthals Eat Brains?
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When I heard that Alagami recently began offering a secret sheep-offal menu on Tuesdays and Saturdays, I headed straight to the Sonnenallee schwarma shop.

Thought for food: Eating brains

I knew I was on the right track when I saw the skulls. Two of them, with peppers for horns and radishes in their empty eye sockets, topped a steam tray full of rice-stuffed intestines, tongues, feet and — jackpot — brains. With a shrug, his colleague retrieved a fist-sized greyish lobe from the steam tray, roughly chopped it up and plopped it on a platter with some herbs.

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This one had been boiled with onions and spices, but otherwise looked straight out of Anatomy I closed my eyes and took a bite. It was softer than I expected, like fatty, organ-flavored custard. Hypothetically I could see the appeal, but the bitter aftertaste, unctuous mouth-coating quality and terrifying optics were turning me off big-time. Had I been trolled?

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But no, someone else came in and ordered the full organ-meat monty, and his brain was given the same lack of treatment. The next afternoon, still a little queasy, I met up with Michel of the eponymous Chez Michel in Kreuzberg.

Cervelle requires patience and preparation, he explained. Everyone loved that last time. It also can have negative effects on your brain's cognitive function. What's more, Davidson found poor eating habits can trick your brain into not realizing you're full, leading you to overeat.

Davidson is the Director of the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience. Initially, he wasn't even studying what people ate. The psychologist and neuroscientist wanted to understand what happened when certain parts of the brain's hippocampus were damaged. So he compared rats with damaged hippocampi to those with healthy ones.

Once you start, it's hard to stop

In his research, Davidson discovered something odd. The rats with hippocampal damage grabbed food more often than rats with healthy hippocampi.

They'd nibble on it for a bit, then drop it. Davidson realized the rats were picking up food even though they weren't hungry. Based on this study and prior research, Davidson suspects something similar might be happening in the brains of humans who overeat bad-for-you foods.

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In short, he concluded that increased consumption of foods like sugary drinks, high-fat dairy and processed meats can damage our hippocampi, impair our decision making and hurt our memories. And it just makes us eat more of that bad stuff.

He calls it "the vicious cycle of cognitive decline. These are a few of the other effects Davidson and other brain scientists say eating too many fats and sugars can have on our brains. With a damaged hippocampus, it becomes more difficult to stop eating the foods that are bad for you. You may unconsciously consume more that you need to feel full, leading to further weight gain, more health problems and further hippocampal damage. Lucy Cheke, a psychologist at the University of Cambridge, conducted another study earlier this year.