We have this nasty habit of implicitly making the choice. We choose unhealthy foods over fruits and veggies, even though we know they’re unhealthy. According to a new study by researchers at McGill University at the Montreal Neurological Institute, this is because our brains implicitly value and want higher calorie foods.
The researchers surveyed participants, asking them about how much money they would spend on junk foods and healthier foods. They used participants who had never dieted before. So they didn’t really necessarily know how many calories were in any given food, but they consistently were willing to pay more for the junk food.
Alan Dagher, neurologist at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital explained that when you eat, the nutrients obviously go to your brain, setting off pleasure responses.
Our brains learn what nutrients are present in the foods we consume. This is necessary, because humans are omnivores – we eat all kinds of things. So our bodies have to tell us what we need so that we shape our diets.
When you make your food choices, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex looks at it and makes decisions. Dagher says,
It’s the part of the brain that calculates value. In our study, that area of the brain tracked calorie density. This suggests that the caloric density of food is what determines the value. In other words, the brain thinks about calories, not vitamins or proteins.
It’s all instinctual and based in history.
If you come across a plentiful food supply, you can consume that now, store the calories as fat, and then you’ll have them to burn later on. This was advantageous until maybe 30 years ago. It’s only recently that we have very cheap food year-round.
So maybe it was not that people were making healthier food choices in past generations. They just didn’t have the reliable supply of food coming in….I wouldn’t personally put that as recently as 30 years though.