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Sweets rewire the brain

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Why do you keep reaching for sweets and processed foods when you know they’re bad for you? 

Foods and drinks that are high in sugars and fats change your brain and it ‘learns’ to expect them, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research in Cologne have discovered.

The brain starts to rewire itself to stimulate the dopamine response, the chemical that’s linked to feelings of motivation and reward.  

“The brain starts to rewire itself by eating chips and sugary foods, and subconsciously learns to prefer rewarding food. Through these changes, we will unconsciously always prefer the foods that contain a lot of fat and sugar,” said Marc Tittgemeyer, one of the researchers.

His research team tested the theory on two groups: one was given a pudding that was high in sugars and fats every day for eight weeks, and the other was given a pudding with less fat.

The brains of those given the pudding high in fats and sweets had changed by the end of the trial, and the difference between the two groups was significant.

The one problem is that those given the sweet pudding may well continue to want to eat sugary foods afterwards.  “New connections are made in the brain, and they don’t dissolve so quickly.  After all, the whole point of learning is that once you learn something, you don’t forget it so quickly,” he said.

The one piece of good news is that we can train our brains to want less sugary and fatty foods—just by cutting down on it.  If we modify our diet, the brain will adapt and expect less.

Cell Metabolism, 2023; doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2023.02.015
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