Train Your Brain to Prefer Healthy Foods

New research shows people can learn to like healthy foods and ditch their cravings for junk

It’s been said that it takes at least 21 days to break a habit and at least three months to shake an addiction, but for those who have a history of dropping diets for their old junk food ways, these numbers don’t matter. Research published last week, however, might raise hopes for those distressed dieters.

According to a study published in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes, people may be able to kick their dependence on unhealthy food while forming a preference for healthy foods. Massachusetts researchers discovered this through taking MRI brain scans at the beginning and end of the six-month study period.

The study included 13 overweight and obese men and women, eight were enrolled in a weight loss program designed by Tufts University researchers, while the other five were the control group and were not enrolled in the program. After the six months and MRI scans, researchers saw changes in the brains of the group that took part in the weight loss program—the brain reward center associated with learning and addiction was more sensitive to healthy, lower-calorie foods. Researchers say that shows after the diet program, the subjects enjoyed healthier foods more. Additionally, the scans of that same area showed decreased sensitivity to the unhealthy food for the group on the diet program.

Authors of the study think the success was based on several factors within the weight loss program, education that led to behavioral changes and high-fiber foods were two notable aspects.

Co-author Dr. Sai Krupa Das, a scientist in the Energy Metabolism Lab and assistant professor at Tufts University, says this is a big step in weight loss science.

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…To the best of our knowledge this is the first demonstration of this important switch.

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