The brain can be trained to prefer healthy food over unhealthy high-calorie foods, using a diet which does not leave people hungry, suggests a study from the US.
Scientists from Tufts University say food addictions can be changed in this way even if they are well-established.
They scanned the addiction centre in the brains of a small group of men and women.
The results showed increased cravings for healthy lower-calorie foods.
Prof Susan B Roberts, senior study author and behavioural nutrition scientist at the Boston university, said: “We don’t start out in life loving French fries and hating, for example, wholewheat pasta.
“This conditioning happens over time in response to eating – repeatedly – what is out there in the toxic food environment.”
Scientists know that once people are addicted to unhealthy foods, it is usually very hard to change their eating habits and get them to lose weight.
But Prof Roberts’ research, published in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes, suggests the brain can learn to like healthy foods.
They studied the part of the brain linked to reward and addiction in 13 overweight and obese men and women, eight of whom were taking part in a specially designed weight-loss programme.
This focused on changing food preferences by prescribing a diet high in fibre and protein, and low in carbohydrates, but which did not allow participants to become hungry because this is when food cravings take over and unhealthy food becomes attractive.