Struggle to diet? Lack of a specific brain tissue may be to blame

People who struggle to stick to a diet appear to be missing grey matter in the part of the brain linked to willpower, say scientists

  • People who lack grey matter at the front of their brain have less self control
  • Grey matter contains most of a brain’s cells and is involved in decision making
  • Brains may be able to be trained to increase people’s self control
  • This in turn could cause the organs to develop greater amounts of grey matter 
  • Study researcher claims people’s brain structures change over time
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People who struggle to stick to a diet may be able to blame their brain tissue, new research suggests.

Those with less grey matter in the region of their vital organ that controls willpower have poorer self control when faced with fattening foods.

Grey matter contains most of a brain’s cells and is involved in muscle control, speech, memory, emotions and decision making.

Future experiments are required to determine if areas of the brain can be trained to boost people’s willpower and if this leads to higher levels of grey matter.

Professor Hilke Plassmann, study author, from business school INSEAD in Fontainebleau, France, told LiveScience: ‘Your brain structure changes over time. 

‘I don’t want people to say, “I’m just not good at self-control; I can’t change it”.’

People who struggle to stick to a diet may be able to blame their brain tissue (stock)

How the research was carried out  

In the first part of the experiment, the researchers analysed three studies that assessed the grey matter of 91 people.

While inside an MRI machine, the participants were told to either ‘consider the healthiness’, ‘consider the taste’ or ‘make the decision naturally’ regarding images of food displayed on a screen, such as yoghurt or biscuits.

They were asked to rate on a scale of ‘strong no’ to ‘strong yes’ how much they wanted to eat the food. 


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In the second part of the study, the researchers analysed a new set of participants who were also shown food images while having an MRI scan but were told to either ‘distance’ themselves from the food, ‘indulge’ or ‘make the decision naturally’.

They were also asked how much they would pay to eat that food on a scale of nothing to $2.50 (around £1.86). 

In both experiments, the participants’ grey matters were assessed.

Those with more grey matter in their dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and ventromedial prefrontal cortex showed greater self-control. 

The findings were published in the journal JNeurosci.


Scientists have unveiled diet and lifestyle tips that maintain brain health in old age. 

According to researchers from around the world ‘what’s good for the heart is good for the brain’.

They add that no single food acts as a ‘silver bullet’ for improving or maintaining brain health.

The experts have put together the following diet and lifestyle advice to help people preserve their brain health as they age.

Eating plenty of berries helps maintain people’s brain health as they get older

Eat plenty of:

  • Berries
  • Fresh vegetables, particularly leafy greens
  • Healthy fats, such as extra-virgin olive oil
  • Nuts
  • Fish and seafood

Include the following in your diet:

  • Beans and other legumes
  • Fruit
  • Low-fat dairy
  • Poultry
  • Grains

Red meat consumption should be limited

Limit intakes of:

  • Fried food
  • Pastries
  • Processed foods
  • Red meat
  • Full-fat dairy
  • Salt

Other tips:

  • Stay active
  • Avoid overeating
  • Eat at least one meal a week with fish that is not deep fried
  • Watch out for salt levels in pre-made food
  • Use lemon, vinegar, herbs and spices to flavour food over salt
  • Snack on raw, plain, unsalted nuts
  • Eat vegetables with a range of different colours
  • Prepare meals from scratch 

Eleven researchers from the Global Council on Brain Health, including experts from the University of Exeter, met on September 12-to-13 2017 to discuss the impact of diet on the brain health of adults over 50. 

Their recommendations are based on the evaluation of studies investigating the impact of nutrients on the cognitive function of older adults. 

Sensor worn on teeth records what people eat in a day 

This comes after research released last March suggested a new sensor worn on teeth could aid dieters by recording what a person eats or drinks in a day.

The sensor, which is mounted directly on to a tooth and connects wirelessly to a user’s mobile phone, records information on their sugar, salt and alcohol intakes, a study by Tufts University found.

The researchers believe the device may help people manage their nutritional inputs, leading to improved health and diet outcomes.

Such sensors could also be used to monitor dental health, as well as potentially collecting saliva samples to measure wellbeing complications, such as fatigue, they add.

Measuring just 2x2mm, the device overcomes previous limitations of such technologies, including requiring users to wear a mouth guard, and adheres well to uneven teeth surfaces, according to the researchers.

It is unclear when such a device may be available for public use.

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