Making intelligent choices

Judith Wills / 09 July 2018

Research suggests that people with more grey matter choose healthier options.



So it’s all about grey matter this week. No, not that piece of steak you overcooked but the important stuff in your brain. Yes, it really does exist and the boffins really do call it grey matter.

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The parts of the brain containing this important stuff, in case you want to know, are the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), believed to be the areas important for choosing options and actions, and exercising self-control.

Apparently, according to very new research* from French scientists, people who had more grey matter in their brains made healthier food choices than those who had less of it.

The scientists studied brain scans of healthy adults while they made their food selections and found that more grey matter meant less chance of the participants choosing the chocolate over the carrot, or the large portion over the smaller one, for example.

The good news is that just like your tummy or thigh muscles, grey matter can be encouraged to develop by regularly exercising it. The actual strategies for doing this are yet to be laid out but you can bet it will involve lots of practice.

I’m kind of hoping they will invent an injection or a pill that will improve my own grey matter volume, because if I haven’t exercised it enough in 60-plus years to be able to say no to that tub of vanilla ice cream on a hot day, then I’m not sure exercise is going to work as well as it should for me now. Though I could be being a trifle (No! Not trifle for heaven’s sake – a bit, a bit) pessimistic on that.

More to the point, what the scientists seem to have done is simply put scientific names and data to something most of us already know – that in our modern world of plenty and choice overkill, it does take thought, care and control to lead the healthier lifestyle that most of us want to lead. 

And though the French research seems fair enough, I still believe that what we need is to be presented with less choice, and healthier choice, at source – i.e., in the shops.  Humans were using their grey matter on other, equally or even more important things back when I was a kid because the unhealthy food choices just weren’t there.

It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?

* Neuroanatomy of the vmPFC and dlPFC Predicts Individual Differences in Cognitive Regulation During Dietary Self-Control Across Regulation Strategies, Journal of Neuroscience, 20th June 2018.






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