Background: Qualitative aspects of diet influence eating behavior, but the physiologic mechanisms for these calorie-independent effects remain speculative.
Objective: We examined effects of the glycemic index (GI) on brain activity in the late postprandial period after a typical intermeal interval.
Design: With the use of a randomized, blinded, crossover design, 12 overweight or obese men aged 18-35 y consumed high- and low-GI meals controlled for calories, macronutrients, and palatability on 2 occasions. The primary outcome was cerebral blood flow as a measure of resting brain activity, which was assessed by using arterial spin-labeling functional magnetic resonance imaging 4 h after test meals. We hypothesized that brain activity would be greater after the high-GI meal in prespecified regions involved in eating behavior, reward, and craving.
Results: Incremental venous plasma glucose (2-h area under the curve) was 2.4-fold greater after the high- than the low-GI meal (P = 0.0001). Plasma glucose was lower (mean ± SE: 4.7 ± 0.14 compared with 5.3 ± 0.16 mmol/L; P = 0.005) and reported hunger was greater (P = 0.04) 4 h after the high- than the low-GI meal. At this time, the high-GI meal elicited greater brain activity centered in the right nucleus accumbens (a prespecified area; P = 0.0006 with adjustment for multiple comparisons) that spread to other areas of the right striatum and to the olfactory area.
Conclusions: Compared with an isocaloric low-GI meal, a high-GI meal decreased plasma glucose, increased hunger, and selectively stimulated brain regions associated with reward and craving in the late postprandial period, which is a time with special significance to eating behavior at the next meal. This trial was registered at clinicaltrials.gov as NCT01064778.