By Suzanne E. Jacobs
An urban planner and a biochemist walk into a seafood restaurant.
Okay, that joke’s going nowhere, but last week an urban planner and a biochemist did walk into a classroom at MIT. In a talk titled “Junk Food and the Modern Mind,” the unusual duo explained to a room full of people how seafood’s effects on the human brain could bridge their seemingly disparate fields.
The urban planner was Lynn Todman, a visiting scholar at MIT. Todman has spent the past nine years working to improve mental health and reduce violence among residents of some of Chicago’s roughest neighborhoods.Last year, Todman held a focus group with adult men in Chicago. At one point, she recalled, one of the men said, “This food is making us crazy,” referring to the unhealthy options common in urban food deserts. Having read up on studies linking nutrition and aggression, Todman took what he said seriously.
“Now, I’ve been doing community based work for a long time, and I know that residents often understand social realities long before we do in the academy, and even though their understanding might be shaped by a series of anecdotes strung together to suggest a trend or pattern, I attribute very real meaning to what residents say about their communities and the observations about the world that they live in,” she said.
Enter Capt. Joe Hibbeln, the biochemist.
Hibbeln, who is also a psychiatrist, works at the National Institutes of Health as a nutritional neuroscientist and is one of the world’s leading experts on the role of fats in brain development.
His claim: a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids and low in omega-6 fatty acids can make people happier and less aggressive. Continue reading