Many people blame poor self-control for why they don’t make healthy food choices. But is there more going on here? New research published in Nature Human Behaviour suggests our brains are hard-wired to work against us. That’s because the human brain processes taste information about foods first, before factoring in healthfulness.
Researchers asked 79 young adults—all of whom had fasted for 4 hours—to rate snack foods for tastiness, healthfulness and desirability. The research team then presented participants with pairs of foods—one healthy and one unhealthy—and asked people to choose between them. Choices were timed. Participants registered taste information early in their decision process, taking an average of about 400 milliseconds, while it required twice as long to incorporate information about a snack’s healthfulness into the decision-making process.
The difference is tiny, but it’s enough time to dictate the ultimate choice between an apple and an apple fritter. And more time can mean better decisions. When study participants were instructed to take longer to consider their options, they tended to pick healthier ones. Receiving education about healthy eating before the experiment also made it less likely that people would make unwise food choices.
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