Monday, March 21, 2016

Part 2: FOODS THAT HIJACK YOUR BRAIN: You know it's bad for you, so why can't you stop eating it?

In last month's post, I raised the question:  Why is it that smart, savvy people who are interested in their own health and well being cannot resist eating foods that they know are not health promoting?
The truth is that many of the foods available to us today have been specifically engineered and designed to be irresistibly delicious and rewarding to eat.  Unfortunately, this has worked so well that many people are driven to eat excessive amounts of food throughout the day, every day.  This constant accessibility to highly palatable foods has contributed to our current obesity epidemic in which almost 70% of American adults are overweight or obese.  So, what is it that makes these highly palatable foods so irresistible that we are willing to seek them out and excessively consume them to the point that we develop obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer?

One ingredient that creates the highly rewarding, highly palatable food is sugar.  Another is fat.  Fat provides an amazing texture to food and also allows the flavors to coat our tongues and mouth and distribute the flavors in just the perfect way.  When we eat high fat foods, the pleasure centers in our brains are activated, but over time this activation requires more fat, thus dulling the effect of small amounts of dietary fat to trigger pleasure in the brain.

Researchers have published numerous peer-reviewed scientific papers showing that regular consumption of high fat foods deadens our ability to feel pleasure - just the way drugs of abuse do.  When this happens, we seek out larger and larger amounts of fat (and other pleasure-creating substances or behaviors) to feel the same amount of pleasure that a little bit of dietary fat used to provide.

In other words, fat dulls the dopamine response over time just like drugs do.  When you eat a high fat diet - think cheeseburgers, fries and milkshakes - you end up wanting more and more.  Eating more high fat foods usually leads to weight gain and related chronic conditions.

Some researchers are so convinced that fat creates addictive behavior that they propose obesity be labeled as a psychiatric condition in the same way drug or alcohol addiction is.  And their rationale is somewhat compelling:

Both obesity and addiction share the inability of a person to restrain behavior in spite of an awareness of detrimental health and social consequences. 

So what can be done?  Fortunately, foods that do not have high concentrations of fat or sugar or both do not lead to such changes in brain chemistry.  By avoiding the excessively fat laden foods created for us by food designers, food manufacturers and restaurants we can avoid this addiction-like reaction and behavior.  By choosing foods created for us by nature, eaten unadulterated, we receive not only excellent nutrition, but we also avoid one of the "pleasure traps" that create our current chronic obesity epidemic.

By eating whole food sources of fat, we are likely to consume a diet that is not so calorically dense as a diet full of highly processed food.  Avoiding fried, injected, cheese or gravy laden fat sources and choosing nuts, seeds, avocados, etc. is the way to go here.  And, rest assured that your taste buds do adjust.  It typically takes 1-3 weeks for your taste buds to change and prefer a lower fat, lower salt or lower sugar diet.

Go for it.  You are totally worth it!

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