Plus, how to cut those junk food cravings for good

By By Dawna Stone
Updated: November 28, 2016

Wouldn't it be great if there were a simple, yet scientifically-proven, way to change your cravings from unhealthy junk food to healthier, good-for-you foods? Just think how much easier it would be to eat healthier and feel better if you craved lean protein, fruits, and vegetables instead of potato chips, pizza, and cookies. Well, you might just be in luck!

You've probably noticed that the more junk food you eat, the more you crave it. If you have a donut or cinnamon roll for breakfast, by late morning you're often craving another sweet treat. It seems the more junk we consume-sugar-laden or salt-filled-the more we want it. Science is now proving that the opposite may also be true.

Consuming healthy foods for a set period of time has actually been shown to make you crave healthy foods. Could something that seems so simple actually work? According to a study at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University and Massachusetts General Hospital, people who followed a healthy eating program actually began to prefer healthier food. Brain scans were done on the study participants before the start and again after 6 months. The participants placed on a healthy eating program showed reduced activation in the reward center of the brain when shown images of junk food like donuts and increased activation when shown healthy foods like grilled chicken. Participants not on the healthy diet protocol continued to crave the same junk food with no change in their scans.

Susan Roberts, senior scientist at the USDA Nutrition Center at Tufts stated, "We don't start out life loving French fries and hating, for example, whole wheat pasta." She goes on to say, "This conditioning happens over time in response to eating-repeatedly-what is out there in the toxic food environment." The study helps us better understand how we can reverse our cravings. We CAN actually condition ourselves, and our brains, to enjoy healthier options.

So what can we do to start changing our cravings for the better? Start by making small, healthy changes like adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet. Not sure where to begin? Try these 5 simple tips:

  1. Find creative ways to include more greens in your diet by adding them to omelets or frittatas, smoothies, and stews. For example, add kale or spinach to your favorite soup recipe or add leafy greens to any dark berry smoothie like blackberry or blueberry for an even more nutrient-rich boost.
  2. Use pureed sweet potato, carrots or butternut squash in your homemade pasta sauce.
  3. Use pureed pumpkin or shredded zucchini in your healthy muffin or pancake recipes.
  4. Add avocado to your morning smoothie for a rich and creamy consistency.
  5. Incorporate shredded zucchini, mushrooms or eggplant to turkey or veggie meatballs

Start with these small changed and who knows, you soon may be craving a large vegetable-packed salad over those lunch-time French fries!

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