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Your brain can be trained to prefer healthy foods

Healthy fruit salad
Healthy fruit saladPhoto by David Ramos/Getty Images

There has been growing concerns over the deleterious effects of unhealthy foods. New research shows that your brain can be trained to prefer healthy foods reported Science Daily on Sept. 1, 2014. A study by researchers at Tufts University and at Massachusetts General Hospital suggests that it is possible to reverse the addictive power of unhealthy food while simultaneously increasing preference for foods that are healthy.

Susan B. Roberts, Ph.D. has explained that people are not born with a love for unhealthy food like french fries and a hate for healthy food like whole wheat pasta. People are conditioned over time with such feelings in response to repeatedly eating foods. And our environment is flooded with toxic food. Scientists have long suspected that once unhealthy food addiction circuits are established in the brain it is hard or even impossible to reverse them.

Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans at the beginning and end of a six-month period changes were seen among research participants in the weight loss program. The brain scans showed changes in areas of the brain reward center which are associated with learning and addiction. At the end of six months this area of the brain had increased sensitivity to healthy, lower-calorie foods. This served as an indication of increased reward and enjoyment of healthier food cues. There was also decreased sensitivity to the unhealthy foods.

This study has been published in the journal Nutrition and Diabetes. This is the first study to demonstrate a positive shift in activation of the reward system in the direction of healthy versus unhealthy food cues associated with behavioral intervention. This offers promising new avenues of consideration for the enhancement of behavioral treatments for obesity.