What if We Could Train Our Brain to Prefer Healthy Foods?

   |  Updated: September 04, 2014 10:47 IST

What if We Could Train Our Brain to Prefer Healthy Foods?
Our brain functions somewhat like a computer. It is like a storehouse of knowledge with a highly established network of information. As matter of fact we know that the brain is also responsible for our actions, reactions and other body functions. Scientifically, our brain takes decisions with the help of its receptors.

Wouldn't it be amazing if we could train our brain to do just the right thing, especially when it comes to making food choices?  According to a new research conducted by the Scientists at the Jean Mayer US Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (USDA HNRCA) at Tufts University and at Massachusetts General Hospital, you can actually make your brain choose healthy low-calorie foods over unhealthy higher-calorie foods for you.

The study was published in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes where experts have explained that with measures such as behaviour change education it is possible to reverse the addictive power of unhealthy foods while also increasing preference for healthy foods.

Earlier scientists suspected that once unhealthy food addiction circuits are established they may be hard or impossible to reverse them, subjecting people to a lifetime of unhealthy food cravings and temptation. But these findings show that it may be possible to train the brain to prefer healthy low-calorie foods over unhealthy higher-calorie foods.

"We don't start out in life loving French fries and hating, for example, whole wheat pasta," said senior and co-corresponding author Susan B Roberts, director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the USDA HNRCA. "This conditioning happens over time in response to eating - repeatedly - what is out there in the toxic food environment," Roberts added.For the study, scientists conducted experiments on 13 overweight and obese men and women. Eight of them were enrolled under a new weight loss programme designed by Tufts University researchers and the were in a control group. Both groups were monitored for a period of 6 months at the beginning and the end of which magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans were conducted.

"We saw here that it is possible to shift preferences from unhealthy food to healthy food without surgery, and that MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is an important technique for exploring the brain's role in food cues," said first author Thilo Deckersbach, a psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in the US.

Amongst those who participated in the weight loss programme, the brain scans showed changes in areas of the brain reward centre associated with learning and addiction. At the end of the programme, this area had increased sensitivity to healthy, lower-calorie foods, indicating an increased reward and enjoyment of healthier food cues. The brain area also showed decreased sensitivity to unhealthy higher-calorie foods.

Comments"The weight loss programme is specifically designed to change how people react to different foods, and our study shows that those who participated in it had an increased desire for healthier foods along with a decreased preference for unhealthy foods, the combined effects of which are probably critical for sustainable weight control," said co-author Sai Krupa Das, a scientist in the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the USDA HNRCA.

 Inputs from PTI & IANS


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