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Re-learning a healthy diet

Posted by Elize Rumsley – RD, LD, CDE, MS, PhD. | Apr 13, 2015 12:42:02 PM

We often hear parents complaining about children who are picky eaters. Are we born to prefer some foods over others? Not really, according to Dr. Susan Roberts, professor at Tufts University. This appears to be more of a conditioned response to eating repeatedly the same types of foods. Because most women are in the work place, few actually cook baby food from scratch. Accordingly, babies are not exposed to a wide variety of tastes, but become accustomed to processed baby foods and processed milk. As they get older, they are then exposed to "boxed" foods high in calories, fat, salt and sugar. It is no wonder that our population has an aversion to healthy foods and is reluctant to deviate from habitual unhealthy choices. Until now, scientists have thought that this behavior was difficult, if not impossible to reverse.

Training Your Brain to Prefer Healthy Foods

So, is it possible to reverse bad dietary habits or to re-train one's taste buds? According to a small study from USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA), it is possible to reprogram your brain's food cravings. They used MRI scans of the brain's addiction center to see how the brain reacts to healthy and unhealthy foods after a person follows six months of a new behavioral change program.

Participants were separated in two groups. Group A received behavioral change education and high-fiber, low-glycemic menu plans. Group B (the control group) did not receive any education and continued with their regular diet. Both groups underwent MRI brain scans at the start and end of the six month research program period.   After six months, the brain scans of group A showed changes in areas of the brain's reward center associated with learning and addiction. There was an increased sensitivity to images of healthy, lower calorie foods, indicating increased pleasure associated with ingestion of healthier foods. They also showed a decreased positive response to images of unhealthy higher calorie foods. There were no changes in the brain scans of the control group.

This study offers hope to those struggling with food addiction. It suggests that it is possible to alter bad dietary habits learned over a lifetime. If you are interested in learning more about how to make positive changes in your food choices, work with a professional and get support to change your behavior and to try healthier foods. If you can sustain it for six months, you will start to reject the unhealthy foods and enjoy a healthier diet.

'Training Your Brain To Prefer Healthy Foods'. Tufts Now 2014. Web. 13 Apr. 2015.

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Topics: Nutrition

Written by Elize Rumsley – RD, LD, CDE, MS, PhD.

Elize is registered and state licensed, has a BS in Human Nutrition and a MA and PhD in Nutrition Science.

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