How Hyperpalatable Foods could be Destroying Your Way of Life
I always joke around saying I’m a fat person stuck in a small frame. That if I worked around food all day I would probably be overweight. While that may be an over exaggeration the fact is that when I was fifteen I got my first real job as a cook at KFC. I can still remember the lovely aroma of the fried chicken cooking, the mashed potatoes steaming in the bowl and the Mac and cheese, ahhhh, life was good. I could eat anything I wanted and didn’t know I was slowly killing my body, or so I thought.
Now fast forward to today. I have chosen to live a healthy lifestyle, but everywhere I look it’s obvious that a great deal of people are overweight. It’s even more noticeable in the south, where I live. In fact over a third of the global population is overweight, higher in the south, and the percentages are increasing. Some neuroscientists have suggested that the rise of so-called “hyperpalatable foods” may partially explain the unprecedented rates of obesity.
Our food environment has changed dramatically over the years, through the introduction of so-called “hyperpalatable” foods. These foods are deliberately engineered in such a way that they surpass the reward properties that traditional foods, such as vegetables, fruits, and nuts give us. Food chemists achieve this by adding products with increased levels of fat, sugar, flavors, and food additives.
David A. Kessler, author of The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite and former head of the FDA, claims that the food industry has combined and created foods in a way that taps into our brain circuitry, thus stimulating our desire for more. On their own, these ingredients aren’t particularly potent, but when combined in specific ways, they tap into the brain’s reward system, creating a feedback loop that stimulates our desire to eat and leaves us wanting more — even when we’re full.
As Kessler told the New York Times, restaurant chains like Chili’s cook up “hyper-palatable food that requires little chewing and goes down easily,” while a Snickers bar is “extraordinarily well engineered.” As we chew it, he says, the sugar dissolves, the fat melts and the caramel traps the peanuts so the entire combination of flavors is blissfully experienced in the mouth at the same time.
Eventually, the experience of eating impossibly delicious foods results in what Kessler describes as “conditioned hypereating.” When we consume enjoyable sugary and fatty foods, it stimulates endorphins in our brains — chemicals that signal a pleasurable experience. In turn, these chemicals stimulate us to eat more of those types of foods, while also calming us down and making us feel good.
But is it really addiction?
Conditioned hypereating sounds suspiciously similar to what we might call food addiction. And indeed, studies have shown that hyperpalatable foods may be capable of triggering an addictive process.
But is it fair to categorize food with such things like illicit drugs, alcohol, and gambling? Some scientists say yes.
For example, neuroscientists from Connecticut College claimed that Oreo cookies are more addictive than cocaine. The researchers came to this conclusion after measuring a protein called c-Fos in the brains of rats. They found that the cookies activated more neurons in the accumbens — a region of the brain associated with pleasure, and studied for its role in addiction and reward-processing — than addictive substances like cocaine. Not surprisingly, the researchers were harshly criticized for suggesting that something as apparently benign as an Oreo cookie could be compared to a notorious party drug. I think my brother would disagree with those who criticized the researchers. He is an overweight vegan that once told me “even vegans can be overweight if your addicted to Oreos.”
Tackling the Problem
- Drink Water: Thirst is often confused with hunger or food cravings. Drinking water before meals may reduce cravings and appetite, as well as help with weight loss.
- Eat more protein: Eating more protein may reduce your appetite and keep you from overeating. Increasing protein intake may reduce cravings by up to 60% and cut the desire to snack at night by 50%.
- Plan Your Meals: Try to plan your meals for the day or upcoming week. Planning helps to eliminate spontaneity and uncertainty, both of which can cause cravings.
- Avoid Getting Extremely Hungry: Hunger is one of the biggest reasons why we eperience cravings. Always have a healthy snack on hand.
- Take a Spirulina Supplement: Spirulina has been shown to suppress appetite and ease your junk food cravings.
- Fight Stress: Stress may induce food cravings and influence eating behaviors, especially for women.
- Get Enough Sleep: Your appetite is largely affected by hormones that fluctuate throught the day.
- Eat Proper Meals: Hunger and a lack of key nutrients can both cause certain cravings. When choosing food, go with food that is nutrient dense.
- Don’t Go to the Grocery Store Hungry: Grocery stores are probably the worst places to be when you are hungry or have cravings. You have easy access to as much food as you can think of and they purposly place the unhealthiest food at eye level.
Cravings are very common. In fact, more than 50% of people experience cravings on a regular basis. They play a major role in weight gain, food addiction and binge eating. Being aware of your cravings and their triggers makes them much easier to avoid. It also makes it a lot easier to eat healthy and lose weight.
I hope this message was able to speak life into you. If it did, please share it with your friends and family on social media and tag me. There is so much more powerful and empowering things to come. Take care and have an amazing day.