Healthy Food Choices Start in the Brain

Summary: A recent study found a new attribute that may explain why some people are more successful in choosing healthier, whole food options than others.


Introduction


Although most of us are striving to eat a well-balanced diet, our individual food choices differ significantly. Differences in diet are influenced by various factors, such as socioeconomic status, culture, and individual health needs. However, a recent study found a new attribute that may explain why some people are more successful in choosing healthier, whole food options than others.


The Study


By analyzing previously obtained MRI and neuroimaging data, researchers found that the amount of gray matter a person has in certain spots within the prefrontal cortex, called the ventromedial and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, predicted that individual’s success in choosing whole foods over their cravings. The more gray matter that was exhibited in these specific regions of the brain, the higher the person’s ability to make better food choices.1


Gray matter is the part of the brain that is dense with neuronal cells and is involved with memory, sensory processing, emotion, and decision-making. The prefrontal cortex is a region of the brain located in the frontal lobe that is involved in complex processes like personality and behavior as well as decision-making. Since our diet is simply a series of decisions, the results of this study support what is currently understood about the brain and behavior. Choosing whole foods more often and processed foods less frequently is crucial for a healthy diet, and this finding sheds some light on why people differ dramatically in their ability to make these choices on a regular basis.


Conclusion


This study marks an important milestone in neuroscience and health because it correlates the behavior of food selection with anatomical differences in specific regions in the brain. Due to the brain’s plasticity, research like this provides potential targets for future therapies and behaviors that could change the structure of the brain over time to facilitate healthier decisions about food.


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