Sep 16, 2011

The Discovery Files: Brain Feed

According to researchers at Caltech deciding what to eat forces your brain to figure out how it feels about a food's taste versus its health benefits versus its portion size or even its packaging, and it needs to determine the importance of these attributes relative to each other.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Think Healthy, Eat Healthier.
(Sound effect: theme music) I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Decisions, decisions. When it comes to making food choices, your brain is in charge of weighing all the options. Almost instantaneously, complex neurological processes kick in, based on everything from palatability to portion-size to packaging. New research out of Caltech indicates that we may be able to sway the brain toward making healthier choices.

The study involved 33 hungry adult volunteers being shown pictures of various foods while brain activity was monitored. Each looked at 180 different food items, from chips and candy bars to chicken and broccoli. With three seconds to decide whether or not they'd want to eat the food shown. They knew they could be served any one of the foods from their "yes" or "strong yes" list at the end of the experiment.

One more thing: before every 10 food choices, one of three instructions appeared on the screen "consider the healthiness," "consider the tastiness" or "make decisions naturally."

When asked to think about healthiness, subjects were less likely to choose unhealthy foods. Just getting the health instruction increased activity in the part of the brain responsible for self-control -- helping them to make better choices.

Jeez, all this food for thought is making me hungry.

For the discovery files, I'm Bob Karson.

The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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