Putting down that cookie isn't just helpful in the short-term — swapping out junk food for a healthier option now could help stop future cravings, according to a new study.
In the study, published in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes, researchers at Tufts University and Massachusetts General Hospital found that adults who changed their eating habits could eventually change their food preferences. Using brain scans of 13 people, the researchers were able to change their eating preferences and habits over time.
The researchers took MRIs of the participants, who were all overweight or obese adults who were otherwise healthy, to measure their brain's responses to healthy and unhealthy foods. The researchers showed the subjects images of both unhealthy and healthy foods and then put the subjects on a plan called the Instinct Diet, created by one of the study authors, Susan B. Roberts, for six months.
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For the diet, the participants cooked their own food according to the Instinct Diet guidelines. The recipes called for portion control, as well as more fiber and less sugar, which stabilized the participants' blood glucose levels — which, over time, prevented spikes that caused unhealthy-food cravings. After six months on the diet, images of the healthy food evoked a more positive response in the subjects, while they were less enticed by the unhealthy food images. Those who were not on the program had no change in response to the images after six months.
"We don't start out in life loving French fries and hating, for example, whole wheat pasta," Roberts said in a statement. "This conditioning happens over time in response to eating — repeatedly — what is out there in the toxic food environment."
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