A new report suggests that it’s actually possible to train your brain to prefer healthy foods, like fruits and vegetables, over junk food.
The report comes from researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Center on Aging, which is based at Tufts University in Massachusetts. The research team studied the brain activity of adult men and women in an effort to determine if it was possible to unhinge addictions to unhealthy food items, like potato chips, poutine, and ice cream. It’s part of a theory which suggests that people who eat a lot of junk food become dependent on those food items, much like a drug addict becomes dependent on cocaine or heroin.
“We don’t start out in life loving French fries and hating, for example, whole wheat pasta,” noted Susan B. Roberts, one of the report’s lead authors. “This conditioning happens over time in response to eating — repeatedly — what is out there in the toxic food environment.”
To examine this phenomenon, the researchers asked participants to undergo magentic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans each month over a six-month period. The participants were then split into two groups, with one group being required to consume healthy, low-calorie foods. After the six-month period had ended, the MRI scans showed that the group that switched to healthy foods had increased sensitivity to food items like fruits and vegetables — suggesting increased enjoyment from consuming those items.
“The weight loss program is specifically designed to change how people react to different foods, and our study shows 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,” noted report co-author Sai Krupa Das.
“To the best of our knowledge this is the first demonstration of this important switch.”