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Making unhealthy food choices? Your brain may be to blame

Do you always reach out for that bowl of chips or the fries? Scientists have found a link between neurobiology and our food habits.

health Updated: Jun 22, 2018 16:38 IST
Asian News International
Diet,Health,Wellness
Brain structures can predict an individual’s ability to choose healthy foods.(Shutterstock)

Turns out, brain anatomy plays a role in determining food choices. According to a study conducted by the Insead, our indulgence in delicious but unhealthy food may not necessarily reveal a character flaw. Rather, our ability to exercise self-control is linked to our neurobiology.

To investigate whether there are brain structures that predict an individual’s ability to choose healthy foods, the study looked at the food choices of participants in four experiments and anatomical imaging data of their brains while they were making their choices. In three of the experiments, participants were placed inside an MRI scanner doing an identical task. They were shown photos of food items and were asked how much they wanted to eat a specific food at the end of the experiment.

They were told to make their decisions based on three conditions: their usual preference, focusing on the tastiness of the food, and the healthfulness of the food. In the fourth experiment, participants were told to pick a food item by either choosing as they normally would, indulging in a food item, or refraining from what they crave.

This group of participants was also told to state the price they would pay for a food item to obtain the right to eat at the end of the experiment, with prices ranging from USD 0 to USD 2.50. Participants with more grey matter volume in the two brain regions displayed more discipline in their food choices by placing greater importance on the healthfulness of food items or less on the tastiness when asked to focus on the healthfulness of the foods.

The outcomes of the fourth experiment confirmed the findings of the other experiments. Also in different participants and a different task, the grey matter volume in the vmPFC and dlPFC predicted dietary self-control. Together, the results showed for the first time that differences in the neuroanatomy of the dlPFC and the vmPFC influence individuals’ ability to make healthy food choices. The study appears in the Journal of Neuroscience.

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First Published: Jun 22, 2018 16:37 IST