10/21/2014 03:01 EDT | Updated 10/21/2014 03:59 EDT

Study Says Your Brain Includes A Free Calorie Counter

Johanna Parkin via Getty Images

A neuroimaging study says the brain has a natural affinity for evaluating foods based on their caloric density, containing a library of nutritional information that may be richer than that of your wearable tracker's software platform.

"Our study sought to determine how people's awareness of caloric content influenced the brain areas known to be implicated in evaluating food options," says study author Alain Dagher, neurologist at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital. "We found that brain activity tracked the true caloric content of foods."

In the study, he showed pictures of 50 different but familiar foods to a participant group of 29 healthy individuals who were asked to rate their appreciation of each item on a scale of one to 20 and estimate the calorie content.

They were then asked to bid on the food in a make-believe auction to give Dr. Dagher and his team an idea of how much they wanted the food.

Although their calorie estimations weren't accurate, they were willing to pay high prices for high-calorie food, indicating their desire to eat it.

Functional MRI brain scans taken while participants viewed the images showed increased activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex -- an area that registers tasty stimuli -- in proportion to the foods' caloric content.

Scans taken during participants' rankings of foods showed a proportionally similar activity level in the insula, which is known to filter the sensations brought on by different foods.

The study was published in the journal Psychological Science.


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