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Training the Brain to Enjoy Healthy Foods is Possible
- Updated: September 2, 2014
Researchers of a small preliminary study at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University (HNRCA) and Massachusetts General Hospital believe training the brain to enjoy healthy foods opposed to those rich in calories and made with additives might be possible.
As stated by Dr. Susan B. Roberts, senior and co-corresponding author of the study, which was published in the Nutrition & Diabetes journal, people do not start out by loving bad foods and hating good foods. Instead, this involves long-term and repeated conditioning based on a very toxic food environment.
With obesity and health-related problems at epidemic level, Roberts and a team of highly respected researchers focused the study on 13 men and women who were either overweight or obese, as well as the preferred reward system used by these individuals.
Of the 13 participants, eight were enrolled in iDiet, a special weight loss program developed at Tufts, while the rest were the control group and as such, not provided with intervention until six months into the study. According to Dr. Sai Krupa, assistant professor at Friedman School, co-author of the study, and lead scientist with the USDA HNRCA in the Energy Metabolism Laboratory, design of the iDiet is to change reaction of the brain in relation to different types of foods.
The iDiet consists of menus high in fiber and low in glycemic calories. However, this diet also addresses behavioral change through education. By using online interactive tools, people have a clear idea of the types of foods to keep at home but also appropriate menu items to order while dining out. The goal of iDiet is to decrease hunger but still allow people to enjoy a variety of foods spread out over three full daily meals plus snacks.
Participants from both groups underwent MRI scans of the brain at the beginning and then again at the end of the six-month study. Scans at the study’s conclusion of individuals in the special diet group showed increased sensitivity to healthy, low-calorie foods within the reward center of the brain, which is also associated to learning and addiction.
In other words, individuals on the iDiet had increased pleasure in consuming healthy foods and decreased interest in junk food whereas those in the other group did not. Dr. Das who was also involved, goes on to say that the iDiet is designed to change people’s reaction to different types of foods, which was proven successful from the outcome of the study. He believes having more interest in “good” foods and less interest in “bad” foods is critical for sustaining a health weight.
While researchers agree more in-depth studies are needed, this small study demonstrated that training the brain to enjoy healthy foods is possible. Dr. Roberts and her team are thrilled with the results, showing that Tuft’s iDiet can be used as yet another valuable tool in the fight against excessive weight and obesity.