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Sweet snacks rewire the brain to prefer unhealthy food

In a new study led by the Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research, experts set out to investigate how the brain develops a preference for unhealthy foods. 

The researchers found that foods with high fat and sugar content actually rewire our brain. By regularly eating these foods, even in small amounts, the brain unconsciously learns to prefer high-fat snacks.

“Our tendency to eat high-fat and high-sugar foods, the so-called Western diet, could be innate or develop as a result of being overweight. But we think that the brain learns this preference,” explained study lead author Sharmili Edwin Thanarajah.

In collaboration with experts at Yale University, the researchers designed an experiment with two study groups who were instructed to eat pudding once per day for eight weeks in addition to their normal diet. 

One group of participants was given a small pudding containing a lot of fat and sugar, while the other group received a pudding that contained the same number of calories but less fat. The researchers measured the brain activity of the volunteers before and during the eight weeks.

The study revealed that among the group that ate the high-sugar and high-fat pudding, the brain’s response to this type of food had greatly increased after eight weeks. In particular, the brain responded by activating dopaminergic pathways that are associated with reward and motivation.

“Our measurements of brain activity showed that the brain rewires itself through the consumption of chips and co. It subconsciously learns to prefer rewarding food,” said Marc Tittgemeyer, who led the study. “Through these changes in the brain, we will unconsciously always prefer the foods that contain a lot of fat and sugar.”

The researchers assume that the preference for sugary foods will continue after the end of the study. “New connections are made in the brain, and they don’t dissolve so quickly,” said Tittgemeyer. “After all, the whole point of learning is that once you learn something, you don’t forget it so quickly.”

The study is published in the journal Cell Metabolism.

By Chrissy Sexton, Editor

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