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Diet & Nutrition

Calorie Counting and Your Brain

We’ve all seen those little booklets that tell you how many calories are in different kinds of food. As it turns out, you might not need one; researchers say the brain has its own kind of calorie counter.

The findings, by researchers from the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, were published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Study author Alain Dagher, a neurologist at the institute, said the research was aimed at finding out “how people’s awareness of caloric content influenced the brain areas known to be implicated in evaluating food options. We found that brain activity tracked the true caloric content of foods.”

In the study, 29 participants looked at pictures of 50 familiar foods. They were asked to rate, on a scale from 1 to 20, how much they liked each food and to estimate the calorie content. Although the subjects didn’t do well at accurately estimated calorie counts, in a simulated “food auction” they bid high for high-calorie foods.

When investigators looked at brain scans taken as participants looked at the food images, they found that activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, an area known to predict immediate consumption, was linked with the foods’ true caloric content.

And participants’ ratings of how much they liked a food were linked to activity in the insula, an area of the brain that has been linked to processing the sensory properties of food.

Understanding the reasons for people’s food choices , Dagher said, could help control obesity, which has been linked to heart disease, diabetes and hypertension.
According to Dagher, understanding the reasons for people’s food choices could help to control the factors that lead to obesity, a condition that is linked to many health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes.

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