I’m Addicted To You, Snack Food! Don’t You Know That You’re Toxic?:
It seems as time goes by, we’re hearing about the influence of ultra-processed foods at an increasing rate.
Whether it’s a tribe in the Amazon that develops obesity and other health problems a year after Nestle drops off a shipment.
Or the increasing amount of “Junk Food” that Westerners are eating as obesity rates rise.
The insidious part of it is these fast & cheap foods are chockablock with all kinds of things that are just not healthy.
Like weird additives, fats, and high-concentrations of dietary crack cocaine.
And some researchers from the US & Germany are finding out that’s only where the problems start…
The Short Answer:
- The Western world is eating more UPFs and Snack Foods.
- That’s really bad for more than one reason.
- “Empty Calories” is not a bad enough term for them.
- All the things they’re made with are pretty bad for your health.
- A small US & German study found out that sugary snack food is actually addictive in a way.
- The subjects given snacks with high fat & sugar had different responses in behavior and in their brains.
- They actively preferred the junk food and showed lower interest in healthier food.
- Brain scans also showed raised activity levels in the reward centers of their brains.
- These elevated levels did not go away, and persisted right to the end of the study.
- There was such a change, the lead author theorized the over-trained circuits would persist long after the 8 weeks.
- The fact that sugary snack foods hack our evolutionary food drives is concerning, because it can lead to high calorie-consumption and several health problems later.
- Other nutrition experts think that the body does not have an “off switch” for sugar consumption.
- The combination of these factors makes it easy to keep bingeing on high-calorie food with potentially harmful ingredients and decrease your health without noticing it.
Read on to find out the details…
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The Supermassive Black Hole Of Empty Calories:
So one of the big problems we’re faced with in nutrition has been more-or-less “empty calories”.
Or what used to be called, “Junk Food”.
Well, some recent work has conjectured that it’s not just empty calories, but that more of it is actually harmful.
Whether it’s the canola oil that has a weird association with Alzheimer’s.
Or the soy lecithin that may be associated with some types of heart disease.
There are odd coincidences around Ultra-processed foods that all involve some pretty crappy health outcomes.
Being A Snack Food Junkie Puts Your Brain Into Altered States:
And that’s what really provides the springboard into the work by Yale and MPI.
Because what they’re finding out is that it’s not just junky on it’s own.
Junk food is actually changing the way your brain works, which makes the problem worse.
So in a small study of about 50 people with an almost-even split of subjects to controls,
Researchers checked out the responses of people to high-fat+high-sugar foods compared to those lower in both.
And across eight weeks of giving one group the junkier version, the team found that their preference for that type of food increased.
-While simultaneously decreasing preference for low-fat+low-sugar [ie: healthier] foods.
Why Eat This Lettuce When I Can Just Freebase Some Nutella Instead?:
The scientists didn’t just see this across behavior, they also saw it in people’s brains.
Because part of the study was to scan & document the brain activity of subjects before and after.
What they found is that the dopamine-based reward centers of the junk food eaters were much more highly-activated than the control group.
Sort-of like Facebook or smartphone games for your diet.
It hacks your neurology & chemistry to keep you coming back.
Junk Food May Be Using Evolution To Brainwash You:
These effects even persisted after the eight week period.
They were strong enough to lead the team to conclude that the brain was being “rewired” in a way.
And since it’s a neurological change, the authors speculate that it will stick around for awhile.
So, this is part of how people can really get addicted to junk food.
Because it’s not jut some ephemeral rush in the old circuits of the brain.
Our Body’s Ability To Store Fat Is Not Exactly Helping Here:
Previously, we’ve talked about the fact that you can’t out-exercise bad nutrition,
And that our bodies were built to survive famines by storing fat.
Well, just as there is a debate in nutrition about the addictiveness of sugar,
Some participants call it addictive as cocaine while others scoff at the notion.
One of the important points that comes from that debate is in our evolutionary past, before refinement and mass-production of sweets,
Humans probably sought out sweet foods because they were almost always fruits that packed a punch with minerals and vitamins; especially
Mountain Dew Vitamin C.
Experts Think There Is No “Off Switch” For Sugar Consumption:
So it’s one of our in-built dietary preferences, along with fat & salt.
But those same nutritionists point out that while we do have a “too much salt” switch,
We do not have one for sugar.
We will definitely over-consume it way past the new 6-teaspoons/day guideline.
Maybe there is even a “too much fat” switch we all have, when our stomach starts to feel a little bit oily.
But still, not so with sugar according to researchers.
Junk Food Addiction Is Probably Worse Than Just A One-Two Punch:
So the over-consumption of UPFs with high-levels of refined sugars could be a huge problem.
They don’t have the kind of fiber or inconvenience of fruits.
And even if it’s not just sugar itself but “fast carbs” like baked goods, pastries, cookies, corn products or potato products like chips.
Much of that is so high on the glycemic index scale that it’s pretty darn close to eating sugar, too!
So not only can excess sugar & carb consumption lead to an inflammation-spiral through the kind that comes from having too much body fat.
This Is A Problem That Is Worth Looking Out-For; Especially Now:
But everything else that comes along with the UPFs your body is now “addicted” to can be harmful, too.
And as we said at the beginning, obesity and junk food consumption rates have both been trending higher in the recent past.
So this isn’t just a quaint little nutritional note, it’s a real caution!
Having a food that’s unhealthy in many ways, has high energy-density, is easy to overeat, and is also made addictive using every trick in the culinary cookbook?
It all adds up to something like sugar-coated dietary plutonium.
I guess Lay’s potato chips really was right when they came up with the ad slogan awhile ago, “Betcha can’t eat just one!”
References & Links:
• Source: Max Planck Institute
• Source Study: CellMet – Habitual daily intake of a sweet and fatty snack modulates reward processing in humans
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