According to a new study, introducing even small amounts of high-fat, high-sugar foods into your diet can rewire your brain circuits. The study suggests that food preferences aren’t always something we’re born with and that fatty or sugary snacks alter our brain activity to prefer these less healthy items.
For the study, researchers had one group of participants eat a high-fat, high-sugar yogurt twice daily for eight weeks, while another got a low-fat, low-sugar version. Participants continued their normal eating habits outside of that.
At the end of the study, participants were asked to rank foods in a blind taste test. The participants that ate the high-fat, high-sugar yogurt ranked all the low-fat and low-sugar options as the lowest.
“Let’s say a new bakery opens up next to your work and you start stopping in and having a scone every morning. That alone can rewire your basic fundamental dopamine learning circuits,” said Dana Small, the study’s senior author.
There may be biological reasons why high-fat, high-sugar foods are sought out by humans as well. Early humans most likely sought these types of food because they are energy dense and resources were much more scarce.
One question left to answer, according to Small, is whether people could change their preferences after becoming used to a high-fat, high-sugar diet.
“Perhaps it is the case that if you decrease gradually to more acceptable levels of fat, that eventually you can change your preferences in a more sustainable way. But I don’t think we know that,” she said.