Science: We Can Rewire Our Brains To Crave Healthy Foods

Nobody better lay a finger on my butternut squash!

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Have you ever taken a bite of chocolate cake and just felt... happy? That's because your brain is being flooded with dopamine–a chemical that helps facilitate the sensation of pleasure. Under an MRI scan, you can actually see the part of the brain where this all goes down. We instinctually seek out things that makes that spot light up. So, do you think your brain would ever light up at the smell of... Brussels sprouts?

Dr. Susan B. Roberts of Tufts University thinks so. In a recent study, her research suggested that we can retool our brains to find junk food less appealing and healthy food irresistible.

The study consisted of 13 men and women, eight of which were subjected to a modified version of Dr. Roberts' iDiet system. Participants also attended weekly group sessions for a period of 15 weeks.

Over time, subjects associate the "healthy" food with feeling nice and full, retooling their brains.

The idea behind the iDiet system is that foods with high protein, high fiber, and low glycemic-index carbohydrates tend to make you full without lots of excess calories and blood sugar spikes. Over time, subjects associate the "healthy" food with feeling nice and full, retooling their brains.

Roberts, who is also a trained chef, leveraged these traits to create meals that tasted good, satisfied hunger, and prevented large fluctuations in blood-sugar levels.

Snacks
Studies suggest that we can retool our brains to steer away from foods like these. [Credit: Flickr user "benarent"] View Larger

Aside from losing weight, MRI scans showed that the participants' brains actually lit up less for junk food and more for healthy meals. And unlike gastric-bypass surgery, the participants did not report a decline in the enjoyment of eating.

"We also use a unique set of behavioral strategies that mesh with our dietary composition to emphasize hunger reduction and craving reduction," Dr. Roberts told Reviewed in an email. "My ultimate goal is to help slim America down, and I believe this is an important advance."

It should be noted that the study relied on a pretty small sample size, so further research is needed to confirm the results. However, it's an interesting direction for nutritional science. Since the days of President Taft, people have been relying on unhealthy, sugary foods to give them that nice dopamine rush. But training our brains to light up at the sight of, say, kale is a crucial step in the pursuit of sustainable weight control.


Hero Image: Flickr user "nancydregan" (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Via: NY Daily News

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