Food for thought: Calorie labeling may sway the brain

Jan. 18, 2019—Have you ever been to a restaurant where the menus displayed the food choices along with the calorie counts? Seeing such info could make you think twice about eating certain foods, a small study in the journal PLOS One suggests. And that could give you an edge if you're watching your weight.

For the study, 42 participants had an MRI brain scan while they viewed 180 images of food without calorie information followed by the same food images with calorie information. Then they were asked to rate their desire to eat the food. The food images included things like cheeseburgers, fries and cherry cheesecake.

What did the researchers find? The food seemed less appealing when its calorie content was revealed. But that's not all that happened. The MRI scans actually showed decreased activity in parts of the brain that motivate eating (including part of the brain's reward system) when the food images and calorie information were shown. This suggests that seeing the calorie content may change how the brain responds to a food choice, one of the study's authors said.

Why it matters

Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration required large restaurant chains to start including calorie info in their menus and menu boards. This study suggests that having that info available may help people to eat less when it comes to foods high in calories.

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Disclaimer

This information is provided for educational purposes only. Individuals should always consult with their healthcare providers regarding medical care or treatment, as recommendations, services or resources are not a substitute for the advice or recommendation of an individual's physician or healthcare provider. Services or treatment options may not be covered under an individual's particular health plan.