Want to crave healthy food? Just eat some
Do you hanker for deep-dish pizza or a burger with all the fixings, and push the boiled rutabaga and steamed okra to the far edges of your dinner plate? The “addictive power” of unhealthy foods may have a hold on you, say authors of a new study. The good news is the brain can possibly be retrained to crave the healthy stuff, the researchers suggest.
“We don’t start out in life loving french fries and hating, for example, whole wheat pasta,” said senior author Susan Roberts, director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging. “It happens over time in response to eating—repeatedly— what’s out there in the toxic food environment,” she said.
In the study, researchers tested a diet program that allowed participants to eat the bad foods they craved, but only if they did so in smaller amounts and sandwiched them between eating the higher-fiber foods included in the diet. “It dilutes the effect,” Roberts told “They get the taste
Outliers. without getting the rush of calories that reinforces addiction.”
The small study published last week in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes followed 13 overweight or obese adults for six months who were either enrolled in the weight-loss intervention or were not. At different points during the trial, participants were shown images of healthy and unhealthy items—such as a sweet potato and a bran muffin, or a chocolate chip cookie and fish sticks—as they underwent an MRI to see which foods triggered the brain’s reward system. By the end of the study, intervention participants were not only more successful at weight loss, but their brains had increased reward activation for low-calorie foods.
“It’s about letting biology work in a normal way and not relying on willpower too much,” Roberts said.