New insights into your brain’s desire for high-fat, high-sugar delights

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obesity-triggered(NaturalHealth365)  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a stunning 40 percent of American adults are clinically obese – as compared to 30 percent two decades ago.  Disturbingly, 20 percent of all children in the United States are now characterized as obese as well, potentially setting them up for a cascade of future adverse effects.  As you know, obesity can send the risk of heart disease and stroke skyrocketing – as well as heighten the odds of developing osteoporosis, sleep apnea, type 2 diabetes, and many forms of cancer.  Clearly, widespread obesity is a growing public health crisis throughout the Western world.

In fact, new clinical research published in Cell Metabolism sheds light on a possible cause for the growing obesity epidemic.  The study reveals that unhealthy dietary choices “rewire the brain” to shape future food preferences.  While the research carries bleak implications, there is still cause for hope.  Let’s look at some evidence-backed ways of “retraining our brains” towards healthier eating.

Recipe for obesity – the brain learns to “prefer” fattening foods

To conduct the study – which was performed at the Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research in Cologne, in tandem with Yale University – researchers gave healthy, normal-weight volunteers a high-fat, sugary pudding every day for eight weeks in addition to their everyday diets.  (A second group received a pudding with the exact number of calories but less fat and sugar).

The team found that the sugary pudding treat activated the brain’s dopaminergic system, which is responsible for motivation and reward.  In other words, it rewired the brain to prefer “rewarding” food – and to look for a sugary “payoff” down the road.  Not only did the brain’s preference for high-sugar, high-fat foods increase, but the preference for healthier fare simultaneously decreased.  In other words, the daily pudding created a sort of “double whammy,” leading to poor nutritional choices.  Making matters worse, the new, unhealthy preference formed on an unconscious level – making it potentially harder to combat.  In fact, the team noted that the “reward rewiring” was similar to that which takes place with addictive drugs.

Attack of the “sugar zombies?”  High-fat, high-sugar foods can shape future behavior

The act of eating a rich, sugary, scrumptious-tasting food not only rewards your brain – but rewires it in a way that makes you more likely to seek out the food in the future while disregarding healthier fare.  Even small amounts of high-fat, high-sugar foods, the researchers noted, can swiftly “train the brain.”  (In other words, eating the decadent pudding wasn’t just a “one-shot deal” or an isolated jolt of pleasure that can be shrugged off.  The act has future consequences and can shape future behavior).

In perhaps the most disturbing finding, the team said that they expected the new, unhealthy preference to persist for the volunteers – even after the study had come to an end!  While new brain connections are made quickly, the scientists pointed out, they are not nearly as quick to dissolve.

The team concluded that reducing the availability of high-fat, high-sugar, highly processed foods – which are prevalent in the Standard American Diet – could help combat the “pandemic of obesity” in the United States.

Discourage obesity through mindful eating

Many forward-thinking healthcare providers support the concept of mindful eating as a better way to dine – and as a useful tool against obesity.  The practice involves eating slowly (chewing your food, very well) and consciously while savoring the food’s color, appearance, texture, aroma, and taste.

While weight loss is not the stated goal of mindful eating, studies have suggested that this deliberate way of eating reduces binging and stress eating and increases the odds of maintaining a healthy weight.  Other suggestions that may be helpful include: eating only when hungry, stopping before a feeling of fullness sets in, and thinking of food as necessary “fuel” to power your daily adventures.  Naturally, you will want to power down phones and devices while eating.  Take your time, and try to make each meal a pleasant, relaxing event.

As for calorie counting, many holistic healthcare professionals dismiss these as frustrating, unhelpful techniques that can lead to a distorted relationship with food.

Tempt your senses with colorful, fresh, organic foods

Many holistic healthcare providers advise adhering to the Mediterranean diet as a way to maintain a healthy weight.  This healthy way of eating is also associated with a lower risk of heart disease and increased longevity.  The diet emphasizes fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans; healthy fats such as avocado; judicious amounts of seafood and meats and antioxidant spices.  For maximum benefit, seek out organic fare.

Ask yourself:  Is that sugar-laden, preservative-ridden, artificially colored pastry really what your body craves?  Give yourself a chance to explore and appreciate the joys of succulent, juicy mangoes, hearty, flavorful beans, piquant spices, satiny baked squash, juicy sweet tomatoes, and robust array of colorful vegetables.  Slowly but surely, you will find yourself beginning to crave these healthy alternatives instead.

Bon appetit!

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