Despite (or perhaps because of) the endless advertisements for junk food and aisles of affordable sweets, it sometimes feels like the obesity epidemic in America happened overnight; like one day we woke up and one-third of our nation was obese. Scientists assure us, however, that the unhealthy change in our diets (and subsequently, waistlines) occurred over time, and that slowly our brains began to be re-wired to prefer junk food over healthy fruits and vegetables. After all, we didn’t come out of the womb preferring candy over cauliflower. In a recent study, USDA scientists have discovered that it may actually be possible to re-wire our brains to prefer wholesome, healthful foods over sweets and processed food.
In the study, researchers tested out a new weight loss program (which included the participants switching to a high-fiber, low-sugar diet), and then began to study the reward centers of the brain, as the obese participants began to lose weight. As they suspected, after six months, the brain scans of the participants began to look different as the reward center of the brain began to show increased sensitivity to healthy, low-calorie foods, and decreased sensitivity to junk and fast foods.
"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," said co-author Sai Krupa Das, Ph.D., a scientist in the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the USDA HNRC. "To the best of our knowledge this is the first demonstration of this important switch."
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Joanna Fantozzi is an Associate Editor with The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter@JoannaFantozzi