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Beans, beans, good for your.…brain?

Beans, Beans, Good for Your.…Brain?

I have always been interested in the connection between our eating behavior and our brain. On the one hand, we all have an amazing capacity to process information, compare options, imagine outcomes, consider consequences, and make logical decisions. On the other hand, this decision-making process can completely break down where food is concerned, even when food decisions can have a direct negative effect on our health, as is the case with diabetes.

The simple, and completely inadequate, explanation is that some behaviors, including eating, are influenced by a biochemical stew of hormones and “neurotransmitters” we can’t consciously control. In fact, there is compelling brain research which suggests that the key components of the obesity and diabetes inducing “western diet” – sugar, salt and fat – work to “condition” our brain to crave more of these foods. Some researchers go as far as to use the word “addictive.”

I can’t completely accept that we are totally helpless to resist unhealthy foods, but I have no doubt that food exerts a powerful subconscious influence on eating behavior. So, I was fascinated by a small research study that literally “showed” (by magnetic resonance imaging of the participants’ brains) that the eating behavior influenced by craving unhealthier foods can be reprogrammed. A group of overweight and obese men and women lost an average of 14 pounds in six months on a diet that focused on hunger reduction and “high satisfaction.” And, the brain scans clearly showed changes in how their brains were “activated” by food.

One key to their success was eating lots of fiber to reduce hunger. The researchers recommended 40 grams or more of fiber per day – that’s almost three times the average American’s current intake. Adding fiber wasn’t the only “intervention” the successful group enjoyed – there were support sessions most weeks, and the diet was planned for the participants. But, the researchers’ focus on “slow digesting, high fiber carbohydrates” was key in reprogramming the brain response to unhealthy foods.

What’s one great way to get some “bang for your buck” in adding more dietary fiber to your daily eating? The answer is another great reason not to eliminate carbohydrates from your diet – eat beans, peas and lentils. Good for your heart, and maybe even good for your brain.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.