Friday, February 15, 2013

Food Reward Friday

This week's "winner"... the Banana Split!

Whoever invented the banana split, I want to shake that guy's hand.  Or gal.  This irresistible combination of ice cream, banana, chocolate sauce, crushed nuts, whipped cream, and maraschino cherries packs up to 1,000 calories, 350 from fat, 560 from sugar (some of it lactose), and 48 from protein.

Individually, the main ingredients in a banana split can be part of a healthy diet in moderation (bananas, cream, nuts, chocolate, even a little bit of sugar).  Add them together, and you have something so irresistible it can lead to substantial overeating, even immediately after a full meal.  A few bites of a banana split isn't going to hurt you.  But who can stop after only a few bites?  I certainly can't.


Anonymous said...

If I were presented with one of those I'd dig out the banana and leave everything else, even if hungry. The only foods I find 'rewarding' and can't stop eating are bananas, oranges, and a few other fruits.

Robert said...

Dear Dr. Guyenet,

Something that has always confused me is the perception that Americans were lean in the 1950's despite eating poor quality food (banana splits, popcorn, fast food, sodas, etc.). I only have anecdotes to back this up (fiction, grandparents) but the data seem to suggest this is accurate so how is this possible?

Were smoking, smaller serving sizes, less frequent poor food consumption the reason they were generally leaner than we are now despite eating refined, highly palatable foods multiple times/week?

If so, then this means there is a threshold for processed food consumption and if we just reduced portions and frequency, we might not need to "ban" bad food (as some health researchers want, despite the "forbidden fruit" problem this generates in many individuals).

It would be fascinating to compare individual food journals from the 1950's to now but I am unsure they exist given that obesity was relatively rare then (~5% in the 50's) versus today (~35%).

Maybe there was a lag period in obesity incidence after these processed foods became ubiquitous and smoking rates decreased? I just don't know but it seems an important issue to understand.

Thank you for any thoughts you might have about this issue.


Moldy Salami said...

I just finished reading "The End of Overeating". The chapters about the different strategies used by food designers and restaurants really make me see your Food Reward Friday series in a whole different light! Not only as the most decadent foods available but also how the different components mesh together to make those foods highly desirable.

This banana split for example could create sensory overload and short-term instant addiction (addicted to each bite until it's all gone, that said) with the sweetness of the fruit and ice cream, the creaminess, the bit of crunch from the nuts, the coldness, etc.
You could eat all of this on it's own and unadorned and it wouldn't compel you to eat several more of each.

David L said...


Since you're so interested in how the brain regulates diet and health, what do you think of the possibility that the stomach is actually a second brain?

pbo said...

This is one those example that I must say look pretty amazing. I definitely could eat that whole thing. I could also get that thing down in a few minutes.

Dawn said...

Obviously the solution to this conundrum is to make your own (thereby minimizing the caloric impact) and eat the banana split as a meal rather than after one.

Steve Parker, M.D. said...

It's rare that I eat a banana split, but when I do, it substitutes for a meal.

It's not just dessert.

Jenny said...

The one banana split I was fed when I was an elementary age child was such a peak experience that I still can remember the scene and setting in detail.

I wouldn't put it in the same category as some of the others you've posted here. But it maintains its specialness when it is very rare. For example, as a team treat when the team wins its championship (or, alternatively, as a consolation prize when it loses!) Or as a once-a-summer indulgence at summer camp, (Which is how I got one.)

The problems arise when it becomes a frequent indulgence.

(And I say this as someone coming off the once-a-year chocolate fest that is Valentine's Day at our house.)

Sol Orwell said...

Too much cream, but other than that, yet again you post something that looks delicious :)

Unknown said...

The man whose hand you need to shake is Dr(!) David Strickler, pharmacist and optician of Latrobe, PA.

Or possibly that of his rival claimant to this innovation, Stinson Thomas, chief dispenser at Butler's Department Store in Boston.


Couldn't track down pics, alas, but they might have looked something like these guys:

Wishing you lifelong health (though not by THIS means), Ivor

Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi Robert,

Here is my opinion. People did eat 'junk food' in the 1950s, but not as much as today (that part is not my opinion-- that is a fact). The difference is that today we're surrounded by it everywhere, in greater variety, and also surrounded by cues such as ads that encourage us to buy it and eat it. We're busier than ever before, and we spend less time making food from scratch at home, so we rely more on commercially prepared food including restaurants. This leads to greater consumption of junk, particularly between meals.

Also, smoking rates have plummeted since the 80s as you mentioned.

Hi Bilbo,

Exactly. I thought that was one of the more compelling points Dr. Kessler made in that book.

Hi David,

There is definitely a huge nervous system in the gut, and there is two-way communication between the enteric nervous system and the brain. I wouldn't call it a second brain since it does different things than the brain, but it does allow the digestive system to function semi-autonomously.

Hi Jenny,

Absolutely. Eating something like this occasionally isn't going to hurt you.

Hi Ivor,


Dan said...

Hi Stephan, I'm curious what do you think about eating two or three home-cooked meals a day (no desserts) in the French style of Julia Child without eating out/buying processed foods? Gourmet meals like that are delicious and could easily run you 1000 calories and they can be delicious. So I'm not sure where this would fall under the food reward spectrum -- I can see these being very tasty but satiating and nutritionally dense.

Paleo Phil said...

Stephan, how about a positive alternative--a healthy, tasty foods day--to the bad foods of "Food Reward Friday," such as Sensational Food Saturday?

Cassandra said...

I don't get it. I have never liked banana splits, ever. Not that anything else you've featured has seemed even remotely appetizing. It's nice to see the thin, health conscious folks admit that they would scarf down something like this though. Alas, I wouldn't touch it with a 10 foot pole and I'm fatter than everyone. Maybe I'll try that potato diet! :P

RLL said...

Julia Child mentioned IIRC, no undue tasting during preparations, moderate portion sizes, and no seconds.

Sanjeev said...

replace half a banana with fried coconut flakes covered in chocolate

replace the other half of the banana with a deep fried donut batter half-banana-shaped replacent

and we're good to go.

The banana has GOT TO GO.

Robert said...


I've been eating French-style food for three weeks (all home-cooked)after reading some of Dr. Guyenet's posts on French cuisine, and my wife and I are leaner (~2 pounds down each) without food cravings (possibly due to food variety reducing any micronutrient deficiencies, if Paul Jaminet's malnutrition>obesity hypothesis is at work here).

We do have a small amount of dark chocolate after dinner (and wine) and do a rich dessert once or twice a week.


Robert said...

Thank you for your thoughts, Dr. Guyenet.

The level of junk food availability is shocking, especially in areas where there definitely should NOT be inexpensive, hyperpalatable, habituating, metabolically-destructive food.

I work at a medical university and our offices are in a drug rehabilitation center. Guess what sits on every floor? A Coca-cola machine and a junk food machine.

The result is that most clients leave their meetings, grab a Coke and a bag of chips, and walk outside to smoke.

The physicians I work with also all drink sodas (mostly diet) and grab some cookies or chips from the machine as well. Half the physicians and nearly all my staff co-workers are overweight...


Billy Oblivion said...

We're busier than ever before

Only in the sense that since we have as much or more leisure time as we did in the 50s we *plan* that leisure time and hence "have" to do it.

Ali said...

Hi Stephan,
I really enjoy and appreciate your "Real food" posts. If you're up for it, it would be great to read some of your recommendations for lunches that don't need to be refrigerated. This is the part of my day that ends up being the least healthful, just because I have a hard time thinking of options beyond sourdough bread, hard cheese, nut butters and fruit.
Thank you!

Unknown said...

Concerning Robert Wright's comments: I was born in 1951 and grew up in that era. I disagree with the contention that people back then ate just as poorly as now.

Fast food was just becoming available and for most people, it was not consumed daily. Super sized fast food meals were unheard of.

Prepared foods from the supermarket were not nearly as available as they are now. Most people were stuck with preparing meals from scratch. Yes, we used refined flour, white rice, etc. but there were also abundant fresh vegetables at mealtime (at least at my house).

Yes, junk food and fast food was available, but it wasn't consumed as frequently. We would have if we could have!

I am sure that smoking was a factor with adults, but the kids were skinny before they had an opportunity to smoke.

Exercise frequency and duration was also a factor.

Now, we have the opportunity to eat better than in the 1950's and 1960's. We just have to do it!

Unknown said...

One large part of the problem is the fact that people have lost the distinction between "treats and eats". Jenny I believe that is your point and it's dead on.

The other problem is from my experience, the majority who are overweight/obese frankly don't care! It's as if vanity was killed sometime during the past 30 years. And the ones that do in fact decide they want to change, by the time they come to that conclusion they have developed a metabolic problem where energy balance mechanisms are damaged and it becomes almost impossible for them to reduce their weight. This certainly doesn't describe everyone, but it does describe a large portion, but many simply don't care that they are large!

Moldy Salami said...

A last small comment: I am currently reading "The Compass of Pleasure: How our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, Gambling Feel So Good" by David J. Linden and chapter 3 (intitled 'Feed Me') touches upon the whole food reward thing as well (a simpler shorter version of Mr. Kessler's book).
Do not know if you Stephan have already read this book, just mentioning it.

Moldy Salami said...

Hi Ali,

Obviously I'm not Stephan but I have used these foods when dealing with no-fridge no-microwave:

(If you live in an extremely hot/humid climate you might disregard some of these)

-Hard-boiled eggs, cooked chicken/turkey (boneless/shredded) keep well 4-6 hours after leaving the fridge with no fear of contamination (I survived all these years).
-Tuna, sardines and mackerel(all canned) are incredibly practical.
-Any bean salad is really tasty at room temperature if made and left to marinate overnight. Rice and quinoa salads, too.
-Hummus and veggies/bread to dip.
-Pasta e Fagioli or Pasta e Ceci are filling, cheap, keep well and can be eaten at all temperatures.
-Veggie pâté (google for recipes) is a real good spread that doesn't spoil easily.
-Tortilla espanola (google it) is an amazing snack at all times.
-Empanadas! I make my own (filling can be jamaican-style, argentina-style, or even pizza-pocket-trashy style. These I make, freeze and defrost the night before when I make my lunch. No issues whatsoever if I can nuke them 2 minutes).

Dan said...

@Robert, thanks! can you refer me to Stephan's posts on French cooking?

Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi Dan,

I think it depends on your level of susceptibility to fat gain. That would probably work fine for some people. But keep in mind that even great chefs don't usually eat decadent food at every meal.

Hi Paleo Phil,

Good idea. If only there were 26 hours in a day...

Hi Robert,

Thanks for your thoughts. It certainly is incongruous that hospitals often serve unhealthy food. I wonder if there's a rationale there? Maybe they feel that it's healthier to have sick people eat something, rather than being served food they don't like and not eating enough? Or maybe there's no good reason.

Hi Marc,

The USDA food tracking data support your contention.

Robert said...

Dr. Guyenet,
I'm not sure why junk food is served to people suffering from addiction but I think it's largely just financial incentives (the clinic needs money and Big Food pays it). It seems cruel (akin to kicking someone when they're down) but maybe you're right in that many clients would not eat almonds, apples, and water? But are Snickers, Cokes, and chocolate wafers really the only food we should have nearby?

@Marc Gibbens, thanks for the information. It sounds like we have a food environment > food habit problem.


It seems that these type of foods were scientifically engineered to hit all our hunger "triggers" rather than a serendipitous result of food combinations. It's high in fat, sugar, readily available and it's more like binging than eating. It's pretty hard for most to resist their primal urges!

Ali said...

Hi Bilbo,
I should probably not be so worried about the FDA food safety recommendations. I love empanadas, especially the calabaza ones. Thanks!

Ivor Goodbody said...

I see my link about the invention of the banana split no longer works. See instead this updated and improved link, resolving the question of who devised this monstrosity, er, I mean delicacy:

Wishing you enduring health, with a (raw, unglazed) cherry on top