Our Better Health

Diet, Health, Fitness, Lifestyle & Wellness


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The Neuroscience of Bad Habits and Why It’s Not About Will Power

Why are bad habits so hard to break? What if the bumper sticker “Just Say No!” actually works against us? If willpower were the answer to breaking bad habits then we  decisionswouldn’t have drug addiction or obesity. There’s something going on in our brains where we literally lose the ability for self-control, but all hope isn’t lost.

Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse calls the phrase “Just Say No!” “magical thinking.”

It appears that dopamine is one of the main chemicals regulating the pleasure center of the brain. At the most basic level, it regulates motivation — it sends signals to receptors in the brain saying, “This feels good!”

Whether you’re a heroin addict and you see an association to heroin, you’re a caffeine addict and you see a cup of coffee, you’re a Smartphone addict and you see another person pick up their phone, or if you’re hungry and you see some good-looking food, your brain rushes with dopamine and that is now caught on brain-scanning machines.

The fascinating thing is that Volkow has found that  the images alone affect the rise of dopamine in our brains. So if we pass a McDonald’s and see the arches, our brain associates that with a tasty hamburger (for some) and shoots up dopamine. That good feeling will unconsciously drive the motivation to go in and get a Big Mac. It’s a conditioned response. The same goes for anything including most likely our relationships to our phones.

A blue button with the word Change on it

What can we do?

It makes sense why more and more addiction centers are integrating mindfulness into their curriculum. Mindfulness practice has been shown to activate the prefrontal cortex and cool down the amygdala. This gives us the ability to widen the space between stimulus and response where choice lies and access possibilities and opportunities we didn’t know were there before. This is crucial when it comes to our addictive behaviors to take a step back, “think through the drink” and recognize the various options that lie before us.

We can learn to step into the pause, notice the sensation of the urge that’s there and as the late Alan Marlatt, Ph.D. said, “surf the urge” as it peaks, crests and falls back down like a wave in the ocean.

One place to start is to just get curious about the pull you feel to whatever you think you’re compulsive with. An easy one besides some of the arguably more destructive habits (drugs, alcohol) is our phones.

Today, be on the lookout for what cues you to check your app. Do you see someone else doing it? Are you waiting somewhere and there’s something uncomfortable about waiting? Is it a certain time of day or place?

Training your brain to recognize this cue can help you get some space from it to ask, “What do I really want to pay attention to right now? What matters?” As we get better at recognizing that space between stimulus and response and making the choices that run alongside our values, like riding a bike, it will start to come more naturally.

Just because our brains have been altered by our compulsive behaviors, doesn’t mean we’re destined to fall into the same habits. With the right skills, community and support we can learn how to break out of routine and into a life worth living.

By Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. 
 


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Signs of a Food Addiction

A lot of us eat a little more than we should and want to stop eating so much, but it’s not as easy as we’d like. Some of us have a food addiction. Did you know there are foods that make you hungrier, and other foods that can suppress your appetite?

For example, the following foods can make you hungrier:

  • White bread
  • Juice
  • Salty snacks
  • Fast food
  • Alcohol
  • White pasta
  • The flavor enhancer MSG
  • Sushi rolls
  • Artificial sweeteners

White bread and white pasta are considered simple carbs. When we eat these foods, our pancreas goes into overdrive, causing an insulin spike. A short time later, our blood sugar levels drop suddenly and as a result of this “crash,” we’re hungrier than ever.

When we look at fast food, it has a high salt content, and can make a person dehydrated. A person may think they are still hungry and eat more, when they are really just thirsty.

Do You Have A Food Addiction?

When people think of addiction, they may immediately think of drugs like cocaine, heroin, alcohol, or even cigarettes. What many may not realize is food can be addictive as well. In addition to making you hungry, some foods can make us crave them as well. The following foods are considered the most addictive:

  • Pizza
  • Chocolate
  • Potato chips
  • Ice cream
  • French fries
  • Soda
  • Cookies
  • Cake
  • Popcorn
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Cheeseburgers

 

Studies indicate these foods (and many others) release “feel good chemicals” in the brain like dopamine in a similar fashion to the brains of those who use alcohol or cocaine. Studies also indicate refined foods can lower the blood sugar and trigger the release of serotonin. Serotonin is believed to affect our mood, appetite, memory and other functions.

In other words, there could be more to you constantly eating or craving foods than you originally thought. So, instead of eating those foods, try break the cycle and eat foods that can suppress the appetite instead:

  • Nuts
  • Oatmeal
  • Apples
  • Spicy foods
  • Mint
  • Avocados
  • Greek yogurt
  • Water

If you notice, the foods that increase our appetites and have addictive qualities are not good for us. They are high in fat, sodium, and believed to cause a variety of health issues such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. On the other hand, the foods that suppress the appetite are considered foods that are good for our overall health.

This is very important information for all of us to know, but it’s especially important for parents. It’s critical we instill good eating habits in our children and avoid feeding them foods that are addictive and could be detrimental to their long-term health.

The foods we eat can either help us or hurt us. Make an effort to avoid minimize foods that taste good but aren’t good for you. Next time you’re hungry, resist the urge to eat the processed foods and junk foods that are high in salt and artificial ingredients and eat something healthy instead. Your body will thank you. Or, just drink water. You may not be hungry after all!

source: holisticlivingtips.com       JULY 21, 2017


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The Most Addicting Foods on the Planet, According to Science

Chips, chocolate, cheese. There are some foods we simply can’t get enough of.
And turns out there’s good reason why we’re hooked.

Why we can’t get enough

What is it about the three Cs: Chocolate, cheese, and chips? For some reason, we can never get enough of them. But wanting to chow on a particular food is one thing, being addicted to it is another. Fact is, you can become addicted to a certain food, and you can blame your brain’s response to it. That’s because certain foods elicit a release of dopamine in the brain, which can lead to more cravings for that particular treat, especially when it comes to foods that are high in sugar, salt, and/or fat. Addictive foods are ones that hit your brain right in its pleasure center, ostensibly telling you that you need more, more, more. “When this pleasure/reward center is stimulated, the brain starts secreting dopamine and other chemicals that make us enjoy the experience even more,” says Ashvini Mashru, a registered dietitian in Malvern, Pennsylvania. “Because your brain loves the sensation caused by that dopamine release, it seeks more of it by creating cravings, that if listened to can cause a vicious cycle of addiction.”

Chocoholics take note

That bowl of M&Ms sitting on your office mate’s desk is a delicious temptation, a crunchy chocolatey treat that’s hard to resist. What we know is that chocolate is one of the most addictive foods around because it binds to the same pleasure centers in the brain as alcohol and certain drugs, according to a 2011 study conducted by Drexel University. It also boasts a nice “mouth feel,” which stimulates oxytocin production, another feel-good hormone, according to Dan DeFigio, author of Beating Sugar Addiction for Dummies. “Over time, our brains start looking for that dopamine hit, and every time we eat chocolate, it reinforces that ‘wiring,'” he says. You’ll feel less guilty munching on these next-level chocolates with added superfoods.

More cheese please

If you’ve hovered over a cheese platter and piled up the cubes, you’ll be relieved to know that it’s not just you. Cheese, which is generally high in fat and cholesterol, also contains a substance called casomorphin that binds to the opioid or feel-good receptors in the brain. “Casomorphins attach to neurotransmitters in our brains and release dopamine, feel-good chemicals, that often lead us to wanting more,” says Neal Barnard, MD, author of The Cheese Trap, adding that the average American today consumes 30 pounds more cheese per year than we did 100 years ago. “While cheese does have its health benefits, it also can be seriously addictive.” (If you’re having some wine with your cheese, here are the best pairings to try.)

Carb fix

Reach into that bowl of potato chips, tortilla chips, or pretzels over and over again, and you’ll know something is happening on the addiction front. And, while there’s no particular compound in these foods that bind to specific brain receptors to cause a euphoric, stimulating, or addictive behavior, there’s something else at play. “Simple carbohydrates are seen as ‘addictive’ because they cause a quick glucose release, and this quickly increases a person’s energy, says Celina Jean, a nutritionist in Austin, Texas. “This energy will quickly be used up, and then you’ll be forced to eat more simple carbohydrates to keep your blood sugar raised.” These are the silent signs you’re eating too many carbs.

Oh, sweet sips

Not only do sugary sodas (also lemonade and sweet tea) provide us with very little nutrients, but one 12-ounce can contain a staggering 35 grams of sugar. Like sugary treats, soda can stimulate the release of dopamine too. Add caffeine and you’re getting a double-energy hit. “Once you’re hooked on caffeine, you can suffer symptoms of withdrawal if you try to stop, including sluggishness, headaches, and emotional distress,” says Mashru.

Pass the French fries

French fries are typically crisp, hot, and salty. This is a triple-threat that signals the tongue and the brain to eat more, Mashru says. The fat content in French fries triggers receptors in our mouths that send a signal to our brain and gut reinforcing the desire to eat more. “These little potato sticks are also a comfort food,” Mashru says. “Therefore, every time you go through the line in a restaurant and see them on the menu, you may find the urge to order them as a side to your entrée irresistible.”

Ice cream you scream

Cravings for ice cream can be insatiable—it’s all about the sugar content and creamy texture, and researchers agree that foods like ice cream, which is basically cream and milk, stimulate the brain in the same way drugs do, inducing behaviors that resemble addiction, says Keri Glassman, RD, a dietitian in New York City. “The sugar ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ you experience are consistent with sugar ‘dependency,'” she says. “When your body gets used to sugar, you feel out of sorts when you consume less, which causes you to eat more.” Here’s how to crack your sugar addiction.

That slice of ‘za

Whether it’s the stringy salty mozzarella cheese, the fluffy dough or the sugar in the tomato sauce, pizza ranks first in food addiction, according to a recent University of Michigan study. That’s because when you eat it, your blood sugar zip up quickly and then when it drops, you feel hungry again and want more. These are the healthier pizza crusts that won’t blow your diet.

BY LAMBETH HOCHWALD
 
source: www.rd.com


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Outsmart The Food Companies To Become A Healthier, Savvier Eater

Like many people, I crave something sweet after every meal, no matter how full I am, to the point where it feels like an addiction. A colleague told me it wasn’t an addiction, but a habit.

Still, the thought lingered: Do we experience true food cravings, perhaps as a result of an “addiction,” or is it simply out of habit? And who’s driving that habit — me or the food companies?

It’s actually both: It’s human nature for consumers to develop habits and seek out foods that satisfy our intense cravings. And so companies create products that meet people’s sensory needs.

“Food companies are interested in selling products that people want,” said Gail Civille, founder and president of Sensory Spectrum, a consulting firm that helps companies learn how sensory cues drive consumer perceptions of products.

“They run tests with consumers and ask them, ‘How much do you like this one? Or that one?’ The companies are trying to figure out what consumers want, and then they do testing to make sure the product has those elements in it – and people like salt, fat and sugar.”
It’s no surprise that food companies would aim to give consumers what they want in an effort to optimize sales. But the process behind product development is quite sophisticated. For companies, the key is finding a food’s “bliss point.”

Discovering the ‘bliss point’

The key for companies is finding the “bliss point” of a food, or the product formulation you like most, according to Howard Moskowitz, an experimental psychologist who did pioneering work on bliss points and their role in product development when he was optimizing menus for soldiers in 1971. He’s since helped major food and beverage companies such as Dr Pepper and Prego find bliss points for their products.

Starbucks’ menu, as selected by a nutritionist

He offered this example: “Let’s just look at coffee with milk. Make some coffee, and pour it into seven cups. Start with no milk, and add a certain amount,” such as you’d find in the tiny plastic containers at a diner.
“Do this so you have zero, one, two, three, four, five and six added containers. The one at the left has no milk; the ones to the right have six different but increasing levels of milk. One of these is the ‘tastiest’ for you.” This is your bliss point.

How does bliss point play out behind the scenes, when it comes to product design and development? For new products, like pickles or pasta sauce, the company may systematically vary the ingredients and test these variations. It’s not just one ingredient alone, but a set of them. Some ingredients appear at different levels. Others appear in different types (such as flavoring A or flavoring B).

“The careful product developer makes the combinations, tests them and builds a mathematical model showing how the ingredients interact to drive liking,” Moskowitz said. “The bliss point — that’s at the top. Sometimes, there are different bliss points, or ‘optima,’ say for people who like strong ‘dark roast (coffee) brews’ and those who like the regular or weaker ‘lighter brews.’ “

Bliss points have been discovered for many foods – even hummus and orange juice – in order to appeal to consumers’ sensory preferences. And this can help explain why, over time, foods evolve to have more sweetness.

The mindful way to distract you from your cravings

“Each generation of food marketers wants to increase acceptance, and the easiest way to do this for many foods is to add sugar,” Moskowitz said. But it’s a slippery slope.
“You add just a little bit each time, so over the course of a decade, there’s a bigger change.” Thus, foods like condiments, tomato sauce and bread – foods that we might not necessarily think of as sweet – often contain added sugars.

Tomato sauce can have 12 grams, about 3 teaspoons, of sugar per half-cup. That’s more than you would find in a chocolate mini doughnut. Barbecue sauce can have 16 grams of sugar – or 4 teaspoons in a 2-tablespoon serving – more sugar than the amount in four chocolate chip cookies or eight sugar wafers. It’s no wonder our palates have evolved to the point where we don’t necessarily know what natural sweetness is anymore: Our taste buds have been, to some degree, externally manipulated over the years.

Heading off food burnout

Although bliss point may be used to find how much pulp an orange juice should contain or the optimal amount of fat for the tastiest ice cream, it has other applications, too. Bliss point has also been used to figure out at which point during a consumption period a person is most sated. But the two applications don’t necessarily work together, because the same sensory characteristics that make your taste buds most excited can run the risk of burnout with each additional bite.

The concept, known as sensory specific satiety, refers to a temporary decline in pleasure derived from consuming a certain food. The result, according to a study in the journal Appetite, is a decrease in a person’s liking and desire for a specific food after eating it.

“The more powerful your experience with the first couple of bites, the less satisfying each additional bite is,” said Brian Wansink, director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab and author of “Slim by Design.” The result: You get bored of eating relatively quickly. “When you eat salted caramel ice cream, the first two bites are incredible. But then there’s a big jump by the time you get to bites six and seven. … By then, you may be saying, ‘Eh, this wasn’t as good as it was initially.’ ”
Interestingly, sensory specific satiety can be thought of as a human protection element – and a way the body adapts in order to avoid sensory overload, according to Civille, of Sensory Spectrum. Imagine stepping slowly and carefully into a very hot bathtub. “At first, you feel HOT, HOT, HOT! But then your body adapts to the hot temperature in order to protect itself from having too much stimulation, as the brain cannot process all of the messages at once,” Civille said. “In the case of food, adaptation results in fullness.”

Despite this scientific reality, the notion of sensory specific satiety doesn’t stop companies from prioritizing taste experience, with the hope that you won’t be able to stop after just one bite.

“Companies are developing products for that initial ‘Oh, my goodness!’ with the first couple of bites,” Wansink said. And even if the level of sensory satisfaction drops, if you start high enough, it won’t necessarily matter.
“The seventh and eighth bite of the salted caramel ice cream will still be pretty good,” he said. “You’re still far ahead of the grapefruit.”

 

coke-obesity

How the sugar industry sweetened research in its favor

In order to extend the amount of time it will take before you get bored of eating a food, its maker may include ingredient variety – for example, making a raisin bran with yogurt puffs or oatmeal clusters. Wansink explains how: “If you mix popcorn with M&Ms, you can eat a lot more than you would if you ate either food alone, because the M&Ms counter the salty flavor of the popcorn, and the buttery popcorn counters the sweetness of the M&Ms.”

Civille agrees. “Without texture and flavor variety, you become full or burnt out. Any new input is not interesting.” This phenomenon helps explain why kids – and adults – can say “I’m so full” after a meal but still have room for dessert. “Dessert is sweet and interesting.”

No wonder I need my sugar fix, even when I’m stuffed from a larger-than-usual meal. Perhaps I’m not truly addicted to sugar, but rather, my body has succumbed to the science of sensory specific satiety.

Becoming an empowered eater

The psychology that goes into finding a “bliss point” and coping with sensory specific satiety is significantly helpful for companies’ bottom lines, but the practical takeaway can have implications for consumers’ health, particularly when foods and beverages are consumed in excess.

Changing kids’ palates – which already prefer sweet tastes – toward sweetness can lead to weight gain, obesity and other health problems. In a world of such abundance, how can consumers become more educated and make the right choices? Here are some tips and tricks to help become savvier,

1. Find a food mantra. “What if we could find the messages to repeat to ourselves, almost like self-advertising, to get us to eat healthily?” asked Moskowitz. In fact, that’s what the bliss point pioneer is working on now: messages that work for consumers. “The science is of words, but it’s still looking for the bliss point. But now the bliss point is the combination of messages that a person will find compelling.” You might ask yourself, “Am I really hungry? Do I really want this food? Or am I bored or stressed?” External motivation works too, he says. “Many people will remind themselves of goals, like, ‘I want to look good in a dress for my daughter’s wedding.’ ”

2. Have a decent breakfast. It will help you avoid cravings, especially sugar cravings. “If your blood sugar is low (from skipping breakfast), you’re going to start eating anything and everything,” Civille said. But a bagel with nothing on it? You’ll be hungry again by 10:30. “The key is to manipulate your own body’s cravings by giving it the right kinds of foods to start with,” she said. And different foods may work better for different people. “If I eat a bowl of oatmeal at 6:30, I’m not hungry until lunch.”

3. Wean your palate. You can change your palate to crave less sweet, salty, fatty foods. “Once people learn to like skim milk, whole milk is too much for them,” Wansink said. One of the ways you can make it happen, he says, is to make sure you pair the product that contains less sugar, salt, fat, whatever – with something that you do like.

“Let’s say you drink way too much Coke. You tell yourself you’re going to drink Diet Coke instead, but you hate the taste of diet soda. So you pair it with something you do enjoy, like taking a walk.” By doing this, he says, you don’t experience the switch to diet soda as such a sacrifice, and eventually you will like it more. Or try making the switch from a sugary cereal to a more protein-rich breakfast. Something as simple as pairing cheese or ketchup with eggs can make a protein-rich breakfast more appealing, and eventually, you won’t even crave the sugar.

4. Add fat. “You should have some fat in your diet, because fat is interesting and satiating. It holds flavor and releases the flavor in a different way than a water-based system,” Civille said. Consider the difference between a teaspoon of vanilla extract in heavy cream (that’s so good!) versus skim milk (awful). The satiety and satisfaction that the fat offers will ultimately allow you to eat less. Spread peanut butter on apple slices or top a mixed green salad with a vinaigrette dressing.

5. Choose portion-controlled snacks. Here’s a case where package design (think 100-calorie packs) may be more costly, but they help you eat less, because they slow the pace of eating. “Having to open up three 100-calorie packs to get 300 calories of chocolate takes a longer time to eat and makes you less sated than if all 300 chocolate calories were in front of you,” Wansink said. The result: People usually give up — and consume fewer calories overall. To save money, buy snacks in bulk and make your own portion-controlled snacks at home using small plastic bags.

6. Drink a glass of water. “Having a glass of water with you all the time is one way of dealing with sensory specific satiety,” Civille said. “The sense of fullness reduces hunger and keeps us hydrated. Often, we eat when we, in fact, are thirsty or dehydrated.”

7. Choose cheese over chips at a party. “People immediately go to the bowl of chips, but you should be looking for the more protein-rich appetizer, which will give you more satiety,” Civille said. A cube of cheese, shrimp or even a slider is a good choice.

8. Don’t go food shopping on an empty stomach. “When you go to the supermarket hungry, you buy things that you crave … and those are typically not good choices, like ice cream, doughnuts and cookies, as opposed to buying more vegetables,” Civille said. Wasnick agrees. “You buy more of the ready-to-eat convenience food, the stuff you can eat in the parking lot,” he said.

Here’s food for thought: Simply eating a piece of fruit 30 minutes before going into a grocery store can significantly change your purchasing habits for the better. “Even just a piece of an apple before you leave – or even a sample of one – dramatically increases how much fruit you buy and decreases the amount of junk food,” Wansink said.

9. Divide your cart in half. “An easy thing that we’ve discovered is the half-cart rule,” Wansink said. “Divide your cart in half with a coat, purse or briefcase. The front half of the cart is reserved for fruits and vegetables. The back half of the cart is for whatever else I want. Simply doing this increases the amount of fruit and vegetables people buy by 25%-30%.”

10. Distract yourself. “There’s a really neat study we did: We had people only eat a quarter as much of a snack as they usually eat in the afternoon,” Wansink said. “So let’s say you usually eat eight Hershey’s Kisses, and we gave you two. We found that 15 minutes later, people rated themselves as equally full, satisfied and happy – and less guilty!” But here’s the important part: “After they had their first two bites, they had to put the food away – they couldn’t stare at it – and they had to do something (active) for those 15 minutes to distract themselves, like cleaning the office or returning phone calls. They could not sit at the computer.”

The results were encouraging. “All they could remember is that they still tasted that chocolate, apple pie or potato chips — and they realized they didn’t deny themselves anything.” But getting their minds off of the food was key. “They realized they can have what they enjoy — as long as they can distract themselves enough to not think about it.”

By Lisa Drayer, CNN           Mon November 21, 2016


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You may be a pizza-holic: Research says some foods addicting

By Carina Storrs, special to CNN     Mon October 26, 2015

(CNN) Pizza, French fries and ice cream may be the kinds of foods many of us love to indulge in after a night of drinking. But research earlier this year suggests we can actually have benders on these foods all by themselves, and it may even be a sign of an addiction.

Researchers have wondered whether we can become addicted to food for more than a century. There have been reports of people losing control over how much they eat, and experiencing withdrawal when they are cut off, just like with drug and alcohol addiction. By now, many agree that food addiction can be a real problem for at least some types of foods.

For the first time, a team of researchers looked at exactly which types of foods could be the most addictive. They asked a group of 120 undergraduates at the University of Michigan, and another group of nearly 400 adults, about 35 different types of food – from pizza to broccoli – and whether they think they could have problems controlling how much they ate of each one. Eighteen of the items were processed foods, meaning they contained added sugars and fats.

Topping the list were pizza, chocolate, chips, cookies, ice cream, French fries, cake and soda, all considered processed foods. They were followed by cheese and bacon – both unprocessed foods, but high in fat and salt.

Fruits and vegetables (strawberries, carrots and broccoli, for example) were at the bottom of the list.

“In a similar manner that drugs are processed to increase their addictive potential, this study provides insight that highly processed foods may be intentionally manufactured to be particularly rewarding through the addition of fat and refined carbohydrates, like white flour and sugar,” said Erica Schulte, graduate student of psychology at the University of Michigan and lead author of the study, which was published in February in PLOS One.

cheese

The researchers found that the most problematic foods tended to be those with a high glycemic load, meaning they contained a lot of sugar and caused a spike in blood sugar. The authors wrote that these qualities could make foods more difficult to stop eating in a similar way as drugs that are highly concentrated and rapidly absorbed into the body are more addictive.

The researchers also found that, among the adults in their study, those with a high BMI and those who were at risk of having any kind of food addiction were most likely to have difficulty controlling themselves around a particular food item.

The researchers assessed food addiction risk using the Yale Food Addiction Scale, which was developed by the study’s lead author, Ashley N. Gearhardt. (You can test your risk of having a food addiction by taking a short version of this survey.)

Although not all foods have the potential to be addictive, “it is critical to understand which ones do,” said Mike Robinson, assistant professor of psychology, neuroscience and behavior at Wesleyan University, who was not involved in the current study.

“We are all pressed for time, and food is becoming more and more available,” but we need to think about what we are grabbing on the go, Robinson said. Although a handful of almonds and a milkshake might have the same number of calories, they will have a different effects on your brain and your reward system, and you will be much more likely to go back to get more of the milkshake, he added.

Many of the symptoms of food addiction look like drug addiction, including that people need more and more of the food item to get the same effect. They also accept negative consequences to obtain it and feel the anxiety or agitation of withdrawal when they can’t have it. Although food withdrawal is not as intense as heroin withdrawal, neither is cocaine withdrawal. “It varies by the drug,” Robinson said.

Just like any addiction, the first step to recovery is to acknowledge there is a problem, Robinson said. “I think in the majority of cases when we have a problem with a substance, whether it’s a food or drug…we will ignore it,” he said.

Robinson suggests avoiding foods if you have trouble controlling how much of them you eat. “We are not in a situation where we will have dietary deficiencies (and) whenever possible we should be aiming to cook foods for ourselves,” he said.

source: www.cnn.com


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Addicted to food? How to break your habit

When does a craving become an obsession?

Daryn Eller from Prevention examines how some woman were able to change their eating patterns

By Daryn Eller    Prevention     TODAY    5/24/2006 

According to Prevention magazine, there may be new evidence to suggest that getting hooked on food — from chocolate to chips — is a very real thing. Rosemary Ellis, Prevention magazine’s editorial director, visited “Today” to discuss food addiction and Daryn Eller’s article featured in the current issue of the magazine. Here’s an excerpt:
Are you addicted to food?: Science suggests that you can be hooked on chocolate, cookies, and chips. 

Here, the latest evidence, plus an 8-step program for regaining control

For nearly 15 years, Dana Littleton ate chocolate practically all day long. “I used to drown myself in it,” says the 34-year-old stay-at-home mom from Guntersville, AL. “I just couldn’t get through my day without chocolate. I’d be positively frenzied if I didn’t have it and feel calm and at ease when I did.”

Littleton recalls a day a few years ago when she was home with her two girls. It was a punishing 20ºF when she realized that she was out of Snickers, a favorite treat. So she bundled up 3-year-old Georgia and 4-month-old Caroline, put them in the car, and drove to the gas station. “I actually dragged a small baby out in the cold,” Littleton says. “Anyone who knows me would say that it’s out of character for me to do that — it was a sign that I was out of control. I wasn’t even out of the parking lot before I had inhaled two candy bars.”

Her habit had consequences, says Littleton, who started numbing herself with food after the death of her father at a young age. Her need for sweets helped drive her weight to 250 pounds; her back and knees hurt, and she had chest pains. “People tell me that at least I’ve never had an addiction like alcohol or drugs — something serious,” she says. “But I tell them my addiction was serious.”

Addiction — to food? 

It seems that everywhere you turn — dinner parties, your best friend’s kitchen, bookstores, even talk shows — someone is confessing to having a food addiction. For years, experts scoffed at the notion that you could be hooked on chocolate or chips. Some still do. But recently, high-tech medical scans have revealed surprising similarities in the brain chemistry of drug addicts and chronic overeaters — resemblances that have caught the attention of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

“We’re involved in studies of brain changes associated with obesity,” says Nora D. Volkow, MD, director of NIDA, whose 2001 study pioneered some of the food-addiction research. “We’re doing it because many compounds that inhibit compulsive eating may also inhibit compulsive drug intake. The neurocircuitry overlaps.”

The behavior of compulsive eaters also lends credence to the idea of addiction — the cravings and preoccupation with food, the guilt, the way these overeaters use food to relieve bad feelings, and the fact that binges are frequently conducted at night or in secret. Now some addiction and obesity experts have started to use the “A” word in connection with food and even to speculate that it may be partly responsible for America’s rising obesity rate.

“Food might be the substance in a substance-abuse disorder that we see today as obesity,” says Mark Gold, MD, chief of addiction medicine at the University of Florida College of Medicine. “If you ask some of the questions that are used to diagnose drug abuse — for instance, ‘Do you continue to use the substance despite its negative effects?’ or ‘Do you have a preference for more refined substances?’ — and then replace substance with food, it’s not all that difficult to imagine that food addictions exist.”

No one — Gold included — is suggesting that an addiction to food could be as strong as the one that drives people addicted to cocaine or heroin. Still, the research into the connection between overeating and addiction isn’t just academic. It may finally put to rest the idea that anyone who eats excessively simply suffers from a lack of self-discipline. More important, the emerging evidence points to some very concrete steps anyone can take to eat in a saner, healthier way.

Blame it on the brain 

People like Littleton have long been accused of lacking willpower. But research at the US Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York suggests they may be missing something else instead: adequate brain receptors for dopamine, a chemical that is part of the brain’s motivation and reward system. “Dopamine is the chemical that makes you say aah,” says Gene-Jack Wang, MD, clinical head of positron emission tomography imaging at Brookhaven and leader of a series of studies investigating the brain chemistry of chronic overeaters. “It gets us to go over and grab something that will make us feel good.”

In 2001, Wang and his colleagues, Volkow among them, compared the brain scans of obese and normal-weight volunteers, counting up dopamine receptors. Obese people, Wang realized, had fewer dopamine receptors — and the more obese they were, the fewer of these crucial receptors they had. In fact, he says, the brains of obese people and drug addicts look strikingly similar: “Both have fewer dopamine receptors than normal subjects.”

It’s possible that drug use or compulsive overeating actually lowers the number of dopamine receptors. But it’s also possible that some people are born with fewer — and if that’s the case, say researchers, it could explain a lot. If overeaters or drug addicts are short on receptors for the aah chemical, they might not respond as readily to social interaction, art, sex, and other pleasures that ought to make them feel good. And that could be the reason they’re driven to consume things that prompt dopamine’s release — like illicit drugs (the most potent activator) or foods high in fat, sugar, and possibly salt. “If you have someone who is not responsive to natural reinforcers, that person may be more vulnerable to taking drugs,” Volkow says. “If you get stimulated only by food, guess what happens? You can easily fall into patterns of compulsive eating.”

What the compulsion feels like 

It doesn’t take a brain scan to see the similarities between someone addicted to drugs or drink and a compulsive overeater. Like the alcoholic who continues to drink despite seeing her life crumbling around her, the overeater will consume food to the detriment of her social and family life. She may know that her eating is harming her health, but it doesn’t matter, says Gold.

“I actually passed out once,” says Terry Young, 40, of Cincinnati, who calls herself a sugar addict. “It was a total binge, with a gallon of ice cream, cookies, candy bars — like an alcoholic on a bender.”

Young has struggled all her life to control her emotional eating, which she says she does almost as a way of medicating herself: She gorges to calm down after a hard day at work and fixes a big snack as a sedative before bed. It’s gotten so bad that she’s been known to steal her 7-year-old daughter’s treats. “If it’s in the house, it calls my name,” she says. She went on antidepressants and says they helped.

“Like cocaine addicts who can’t leave any cocaine behind, food addicts eat until no food is available,” says Gold. “You might say, ‘Yeah, I did that on Thanksgiving.’ But food addicts do this all the time.”

Patty White* of Los Angeles can relate. Her “drug” of choice is cheese of any kind, from Brie to the Cheddar in macaroni and cheese. Two years ago, the 45-year-old saleswoman gave up cheese for Lent, but as soon as that period was over, she binged. “I went cold turkey when I quit smoking, but this time, going cold turkey was a disaster,” she recalls. “I went wild. I gorged on cheese at every meal, gained 5 pounds in 4 days, and just felt disgusting.” Growing up, she saw family members go on similar binges — but they abused alcohol. “My grandfather was an alcoholic, and I see addictive behavior in other relatives,” she says. “I’m a lot like them. But my excessive behavior is with food.”

Is it nature … or nurture? 

Addiction and obesity both run in families, and experts believe that genetic components account for at least some of a person’s vulnerability. But animal research also suggests that the environment — mainly, how often you’re exposed to an addictive substance — can shift brain neurochemistry, increasing the likelihood of addiction. One hint that environment plays a role comes from studies in which animals were repeatedly given cocaine: Frequent use actually decreased the number of dopamine receptors, says Wang.

If that’s the case, we live in an environment perfectly designed to nurture food addictions. For decades, food-industry scientists have been working hard to figure out how better to hook people, claims David L. Katz, MD, MPH, director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center in Derby, CT, and author of The Flavor Point Diet. Manufacturers now excel at hitting the sweet spot — making us crave more and more of a food. “In a supermarket recently, I actually found a pasta sauce that, serving for serving, contained more sugar than a chocolate fudge sauce, though the sweetness was hidden because the pasta sauce was so salty,” Katz says. “The question is, why would anybody pour a packet of sugar over their pasta? And the answer is that if you get used to that much sugar, another pasta sauce will taste too bland. The food industry wants us to need more and more of the substance to feel satisfied, so we’ll go out and buy more and more of it.”

Animal research at Princeton University has also shown that the way you indulge may have consequences. Bart Hoebel, PhD, a professor of psychology, placed rats on an alternating schedule of 12 hours with no food, followed by 12 hours of access to both rat chow and a solution of 10% sugar (about as sweet as a soft drink) — a pattern that results in binge eating. As the days went by, the rats began upping their intake of the sugar solution, drinking more and more at a time. Hoebel found that after about a month, the rats’ brains were producing surges of dopamine during their binges. “In rats, binge eating promotes addiction just like binge drinking promotes alcohol addiction,” says Hoebel. “It’s possible that repeatedly bingeing on sweets could actually change the circuitry of your brain” — and make you want ever-increasing amounts.

Getting straight 

Researchers aren’t ready to declare the case closed on the causes of our collective weight problem. “The research is interesting, but I’d never say that people who struggle with food and weight issues are addicted in a clinical sense,” says Martin Binks, PhD, director of behavioral health at the Duke Diet & Fitness Center. “The evidence just isn’t there. And the implication is that if you have an eating problem, you’re destined to lose control — there’s nothing you can do.”

Yet the notion of an addiction to food may help people like Dana Littleton. “At some point, I realized that I had hit bottom, just as an alcoholic or drug addict would,” she says. Littleton took the same path that so many have taken before. “I prayed for strength to face what I had been running from. And for willpower — especially for chocolate. Then I got off my rear end.”

Whether you look outside or inside yourself for the determination to stop your destructive behavior, researchers agree that it’s important to recognize that you can change. High-fat, high-sugar foods may trigger some of the same brain effects as drugs like cocaine or heroin, but their impact isn’t as powerful, say researchers, who point out that addicted rats, for instance, will choose cocaine over food. While it may feel at times like a runaway train, how you eat isn’t out of your control, says Susan McQuillan, MS, RD, author of Breaking the Bonds of Food Addiction. Having a plan of action can help. With that in mind, here are eight steps you can take to get back on track.

1. Don’t go cold turkey 

Although treatment for life-threatening drug or alcohol addiction generally requires abstinence, an all-or-nothing approach is impossible for food addicts — everyone has to eat. Besides, some weight loss experts believe that such rigid thinking can make you crave the offending food more than ever. After Patty White’s cheese bender, she realized that by banishing it entirely, she’d set herself up for failure. Now she lets herself eat cheese, but in sensible amounts: “I sprinkle some on a taco instead of sitting down to a wedge of Brie.” Says Edward Abramson, PhD, professor emeritus of psychology at California State University, Chico, and author of the book Body Intelligence, “If someone told me that I could never eat another doughnut as long as I live, I would become so preoccupied with doughnuts that I’d probably gobble down a dozen by the end of the day. If I know I can have another doughnut sooner or later, I won’t feel so desperate. I can eat just one.”

2. Control your home environment 

Just as someone with an alcohol problem shouldn’t buy a magnum of champagne, you shouldn’t overstock your kitchen, says Gold. “You have to assume that every food or drink you buy will end up in your mouth. You’ll see a TV commercial or some other trigger, and that food will end up in your mouth.” Exercise purchase and portion control, Gold advises.

3. Temper temptation 

Sometimes it’s not just a food that sets you off but also the place in which you eat it — and that’s why putting yourself in a situation where you used to eat excessively can be a recipe for trouble. Ex–drug addicts face this problem all the time, reports Marcia Levin Pelchat, PhD, a research scientist at Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. “Going back to the old neighborhood often triggers a strong craving,” she says. Similarly, the sight of the bakery where you used to buy brownies might melt your resolve. So shake up your routine. If tortilla chips are your weakness, don’t go to Mexican restaurants. If you always have ice cream while watching TV, read a book instead (or knit to keep your hands busy as you watch CSI: Miami).

4. Retrain your brain 

In order to be satisfied with two cookies instead of an entire bag, you need to change the way your brain sees food on the plate, says Gold. First, switch to smaller plates and bowls to automatically reduce portion sizes. “This can make people very distraught because the brain looks at the smaller portions and decides they’re not enough,” says Gold. “But over time, the brain gets used to it.” Next, leave more space on the plate by again reducing the amount of food you serve yourself. Each step may take several weeks to feel comfortable, but stick with it and consuming smaller portions will become second nature.

5. Adjust your tastebuds 

One of the best ways to gain control over your eating is to restore your sensitivity to flavors, says Katz. You can do it without depriving yourself: If sugar is your downfall, keep sugar cookies in your diet, but when picking prepared foods that aren’t supposed to be sweet — such as pasta sauce, bread, and chips — look for ones without added sweeteners. Check ingredient labels for all the names that sugar goes by, including fructose, dextrose, and corn syrup (for a list of sugar’s aliases, go to http://www.prevention.com/sugarlist). “By removing all that superfluous sugar from your diet, you’ll soon reset the sensitivity of your tastebuds,” explains Katz, who says that the same technique can be used to reduce your desire for salt or fat. Be forewarned: You’ll have to maintain vigilance. “Tastebuds are very adaptive little fellows,” Katz says. “If you let extra sugar and fat into your diet, you could be lured back into your old patterns.”

6. Exercise regularly 

Milky Ways and Big Macs aren’t the only things that satisfy the pleasure centers of your brain — so does exercise. In animals, at least, research has found that it increases dopamine levels and raises the number of dopamine receptors in the brain. Making a commitment to work out helped Littleton kick her chocolate habit. As a result of a vigorous exercise routine and a more sensible diet, she’s gotten down to 134 — a loss of 114 pounds in the past 3 years. “The feeling I get after I exercise is nothing like I’d get after eating chocolate,” she says. “It’s much better, and it doesn’t come with guilt.”

7. Learn to eat only when you’re hungry 

One classic tool that weight loss experts use to teach people how to better manage their appetite is the hunger scale. The scale ranges from 0 to 10, with 0 being ravenously hungry and 10 being overstuffed. “A food addict’s goal is to stay away from either of these extremes,” says McQuillan. Eat when you begin to feel hungry (2 or 3 on the scale) and stop when you feel comfortably satisfied (5 or 6). Though it’s obvious that you don’t want to eat to an overstuffed 10, using the scale to gauge when you should start munching is important, too: If you wait until you’re at 0, you may eat all the way up to 10.

8. Deal with your emotions 

Even if a brain scan at Wang’s lab were to show that you have a physiological basis for food addiction, it’s likely that there would be an emotional element, too. It’s important to stop using food to cope with your feelings, says McQuillan. This can mean getting better at tolerating sensations of sadness, anger, or boredom, rather than rushing to soothe them with food. Sometimes it means asking what you need to make your life better. “I failed when I tried to comfort myself with food after the death of my dad and after two miscarriages,” says Littleton. “I had to turn around to face it head-on. Now I’m in control of my decisions.”

*This name has been changed.

How strong are your food cravings? 

You might be a food addict if any of these descriptions fit. You continue to overeat even though you know it’s harming your health and possibly your family and social life; you hide out and eat alone; you feel compelled to finish all the food in your line of sight (or house); you eat to the point of pain or discomfort. Also consider the following four questions, suggests Mark Gold, MD, chief of addiction medicine at the University of Florida College of Medicine. They’re an adaptation of the CAGE questionnaire, a tool used to diagnose alcoholism. “You really need to answer yes to only two items to indicate that you may have a problem,” he says.

Have you ever felt the need to Cut down on your eating? Many people overeat on occasion; the difference is that you feel that if you don’t ration yourself, you will completely lose control.

Have you ever been Annoyed by criticism of your eating? If you get upset when anyone brings up what or how much you consume, it may mean that you are too attached to eating.

Do you feel Guilty about your eating? It builds up, because at every meal you say you’re going to control yourself — and you fail.

Have you ever needed an Eye-opener? You may wake up in the morning and feel compelled to consume. “We have patients who get up in the middle of the night and eat,” Gold says. “They say, ‘I finished a cake — I don’t know how I did it.’ ”

Daryn Eller writes frequently on health and nutrition from her home in California.


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Sugar Is a Drug

By Dr. Oz & Dr. Roizen     June 6th, 2013 

When a person does cocaine it creates a surge of pleasure molecules in the brain, including serotonin and dopamine, or decreases their inactivation. Stay with us, here. It both creates a rush of molecules and blocks their degradation—two things that boost their effects. These cause a pleasure rush in you, at least until your brain receptors get used to it. Many get addicted to this rush and seek out the drug whenever, wherever they can. You would then seek more to overcome your brain receptors getting to use to the rush. Cocaine is not the only substance that does this. And, no, we’re not talking about other hard drugs. We’re talking about something you’ve probably put into your body already today: simple sugars and their equivalent, simple or added syrups.

Eating sugar makes you feel good by stimulating the release of serotonin and dopamine in your brain and the reduction in their degradation. But when it wears off, you crash and may go on the hunt for another sweet fix—your brain’s receptors demand more. Sound familiar? 

Not everyone has an insatiable sweet tooth, and scientists are studying animal models to determine what makes some people more susceptible to sugar addiction. They believe that a tendency toward getting hooked on the sweet stuff could help explain why obesity is on the rise worldwide. With snack cakes, candy bars, sodas and cookies constantly at our fingertips, we can all benefit from being aware of the slippery high-fructose-corn-syrup-slicked slope.


Here are three ways to monitor and control your sugar intake:

1. Avoid Processed (White) Sugars
Simple sugars, like the ones in cake, packaged foods, white bread and soda, are taken up very quickly in your body. Cue sugar high, sugar crash and cravings for more sugar. Not only do they perpetuate the cycle of gotta have it, they also do direct damage to the proteins that serve as grout between the cells lining your arteries, lead to insulin resistance and diabetes, and accelerate the wrinkling and sagging of aging skin.

2. Try Different Desserts
We’re a society programmed to end our meals with something sweet. Try to break the dessert habit by trying something other than a pie or a bowl of ice cream. Why not do what many Europeans do and have salad as the last thing you eat, or cap off dinner with an ounce of walnuts covered with blackberries? Revel in the natural sweetness of strawberries, or treat a glass of wine as your dessert.

3. Pay More Attention to Your Food
One key to cutting back on sugar is being aware of how much sugar you eat in the first place. Check the nutrition facts on foods you enjoy every day; you might be surprised how much added sugar is lurking in seemingly healthy foods, such as nonfat fruit yogurt and barbeque sauce. (We wrote about eight common culprits in a recent column. Read it here.) Never snack right out of the bag or box, because that makes it nearly impossible to track how much you’ve eaten. Portion out one serving into a small bowl, then put the package away. Not only will you eat less, you’ll also appreciate and enjoy it more.


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Eyes are the windows to chocolate addiction: study

Andrea Janus, CTVNews.ca  Thursday, June 27, 2013

Chocoholics trying to hide their habit may want to keep dark glasses at hand, suggests a new study, which found the brain’s pleasure response to food can actually be seen in the eyes.

In a small study of nine patients, U.S. researchers measured dopamine levels in the eyes of their subjects after they had tasted chocolate.

Dopamine is the chemical associated with the brain’s reward, pleasure and addiction centre. Dopamine is also released in the eye in response to light exposure.

The researchers used electroretinography (ERG), a tool used by ophthalmologists to look for retinal damage, to measure increases of dopamine in the retina. They found a surge in dopamine activity when the eye was exposed to a flash of light just as the subject ate a piece of brownie. A similar spike was noticed when subjects were given the drug methylphenidate to trigger a dopamine response.

These spikes were far greater than when subjects were exposed to light while only drinking water.

chocolate

“What makes this so exciting is that the eye’s dopamine system was considered separate from the rest of the brain’s dopamine system,” lead researcher Dr. Jennifer Nasser, associate professor of Nutrition Sciences at Drexel, said in a statement.

“So most people – and indeed many retinography experts told me this – would say that tasting a food that stimulates the brain’s dopamine system wouldn’t have an effect on the eye’s dopamine system.”

The findings are published in the journal Obesity.

Nasser cautions that the study is small, and the findings must be replicated in larger studies. However, if replicated, the research may lead to the use of ERG to study food addiction, which could lead to new ideas for obesity prevention. If a doctor or nutritionist can identify foods that cause a huge dopamine spike in a patient, then they can help devise a diet that avoids those triggers.

“My research takes a pharmacology approach to the brain’s response to food,” Nasser said.

“Food is both a nutrient delivery system and a pleasure delivery system, and a ‘side effect’ is excess calories. I want to maximize the pleasure and nutritional value of food but minimize the side effects. We need more user-friendly tools to do that.”

source: CTV


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What Milk Shakes Teach Us About Food Addiction

By Alexandra Sifferlin  June 27, 2013

Have you ever craved a piece of chocolate? Or felt the lure of a hot slice of pizza? And been convinced that the force responsible wasn’t your stomach hoping to quell hunger but your brain, desperately seeking to satisfy something more like an addiction? A new study provides the strongest evidence yet that certain foods trigger addictive behavior just as drugs can.

Nicotine is addictive. So are drugs like cocaine and heroin. All can rewire the brain to crave the progressively elusive “high” or satisfaction that these agents produce. The desire is so strong that it overtakes all reason and need to satisfy it becomes an all-consuming mission, at the expense of your physical, emotional and social health.

Some would argue that certain foods hold the same power over people, monkeying with the brain’s normal appetite system and resetting the satisfaction threshold so it’s always just out of reach, meaning you can never eat enough. Others point to the fact that food is essential for survival so it can’t be addictive since satisfying hunger is part of, and isn’t supposed to interfere with, physical and mental health. “The concept of food addiction is very provocative and rightly so,”says Dr. David Ludwig, the director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Center at Boston Children’s Hospital. “Unlike drugs of abuse, food is necessary for survival.”

But with obesity rates still at worrisome levels, Ludwig and his colleagues decided to take an objective look at what effect food has on the brain, to see if certain foods do indeed trigger cravings as some abused substances do. Specifically, they focused on the dietary glycemic index, a measure of a food’s ability to raise blood sugar levels, on brain regions associated with cravings in a group of obese men.

“Prior research has shown the tasty high calorie foods can trigger the pleasure center of the brain. That supports the idea of food addiction, but the significance of those studies has been challenged because they typically compare grossly different foods like cheesecake versus boiled vegetables,” says Ludwig. “Yes, certain foods are tasty and enjoyable, but is that so different from a audiophile listening to beautiful music?”

Ludwig took MRI scans of the brains of 12 obese men after they consumed two milk shakes. Both had the same amount of calories, protein, fat and carbohydrates and tasted equally sweet. However, one milk shake had a much higher glycemic index from the carbohydrates compared to the other.


After the men consumed the milk shake with the higher glycemic index, their blood sugar levels surged as expected, then crashed a few hours later, leaving them feeling hungry. But with the brain scans, Ludwig was able to show that these  shakes activated the nucleus accumbens, which is also triggered by addictive drugs and behaviors like gambling. Previous work also hinted at a connection between food and dependence; a 2012 study found that obese people lose their sensitivity to leptin, a hormone that is released by fat cells in the body and regulates feelings of hunger and fullness. Leptin may also play a role in substance addictions by modifying the body’s reward responses to things like alcohol or cocaine.

“These results suggest that highly processed carbohydrates trigger food cravings for many hours after consumption independent of calories or tastiness, and that limiting these foods could help people avoid over-eating,” says Ludwig. When the glycemic index drops, the nucleus accumbens may signal for more, in order to produce another surge, similar to the way that addictive drugs prompt cravings, he says.

But does that mean that food is addictive? One key difference between food and drug addictions involves the body’s ability to signal that it is “full,” or had enough. With drugs, there is less of a biological threshold. But the common brain patterns activated by food and addictive drugs suggests that each may inform the other. As TIME’s Maia Szalavitz reported:

Basically, regulation of food intake is more complex than drug use. That may help explain why there have been so many failures of anti-obesity drugs. But the similarities between hunger for food and for drugs suggest that if we do develop a drug that fights obesity, it may also help treat other addictions — and vice versa.

While the is-food-addictive debate shows no signs of ending, the label itself may not be that important. What matters most is finding ways to adapt our brains and behavior to the modern environment, one that contains intensely attractive food and drugs — along with highly politicized arguments about how to regulate them.

Understanding how some elements of eating may be driven by the same processes behind addictive behaviors could help to explain over-eating, for one. “By definition overweight and obese people habitually over-eat. They are eating more calories than they need,” explains Ludwig. “That raises this fundamental question, why do overweight people continue to overeat when they know intellectually that reducing calorie intake would be healthier and they’ve tried, often many times, to do so? Is it simply lack of willpower or could there be aspects of food that are driving overeating at a biological level?”

If there are biological factors at work, there may be ways to intervene to make dieting, and weight loss, easier. Eating fewer foods with high glycemic loads like white bread, for example, may keep surges of blood sugar to a minimum, which in turn could modulate the activity of the brain’s reward system and lessen cravings. Ludwig says that more research is needed to better understand the complex way that the brain sees food; even if food isn’t addictive in exactly the same way that drugs of abuse are, exposing the connections between eating and satisfaction could lead to more effective ways of managing, or even avoiding, the lure of our favorite foods.

The study is published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

source: Time


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Food cravings engineered by industry

How Big Food keeps us eating through a combination of science and marketing

By Kelly Crowe, CBC News    Posted: Mar 6, 2013 

Standing in her kitchen in downtown Toronto chopping vegetables for dinner, Pat Guillet is aware she has entered the battleground.

“Whenever you go grocery shopping, or into your kitchen, you’re in a war zone. You have to really be prepared before you go in,” she said. She decides, in advance, exactly what she’s going to eat, and she forces herself to stick to the plan. Because she knows she is just one sweet mouthful away from a descent back into hell. Pat Guillet is a food addict.

“I ate to the point it hurt to move. And I would just lie in my bed and wish I was dead,” she said. She has finally wrestled her addiction under control and now she counsels other food addicts to avoid processed food. “Yeah, just the sight of the packages will trigger cravings,” she said.

Craving. It doesn’t just happen to food addicts. Most people have experienced the impulse to seek out and consume a favourite packaged snack food. On one billboard, recently put up in Toronto, the intention to make you reach for another one is prominently declared, in large letters that tower over the city street. It’s a picture of a box of crackers, and the promise “You’ll be back for more.”

They know you will be back, because they’ve done the research necessary to make it happen.

“These companies rely on deep science and pure science to understand how we’re attracted to food and how they can make their foods attractive to us,” Michael Moss said.

The New York Times investigative reporter spent four years prying open the secrets of the food industry’s scientists.

“This was like a detective story for me, getting inside the companies with thousands of pages of inside documents and getting their scientists and executives to reveal to me the secrets of how they go at this,” he said. What he found became the title of his new book, Salt, Sugar Fat: How the food giants hooked us.

“I was totally surprised,” he said. “I spent time with the top scientists at the largest companies in this country and it’s amazing how much math and science and regression analysis and energy they put into finding the very perfect amount of salt, sugar and fat in their products that will send us over the moon, and will send their products flying off the shelves and have us buy more, eat more and …make more money for them.”

It’s not surprising to Bruce Bradley. He’s a former food industry executive who spent 15 years working at General Mills, Pillsbury and Nabisco, and ran some common food brands including Honey Nut Cheerios and Hamburger Helper. But one day he discovered he couldn’t do it anymore.

“There were certainly times that I felt uncomfortable or troubled by what I was doing,” he said. “I think that’s ultimately one of the reasons why I left the industry. As you start to get glimpses of products and you understand better how consumers are using them, and then you see trends like obesity and health issues that are increasing, mainly driven by the food we eat, it was hard for me not to just take a more thorough assessment of what I was doing.”

Now he writes a blog, critical of the food industry.

“I decided to step out and ultimately speak out in hopes of bringing more awareness to the issue,” he said. “What we eat and drink from a lot of these big food and beverages companies isn’t that good for us and we should reconsider it,” he said. “These products are designed to keep you coming back to eat more and more and more. They’re trying to increase their share of your stomach.”

Pat Guillet said it’s hard to overcome the addictive appeal of processed foods like ice cream.

A Google search of the patents held by the food industry provides a glimpse of the complex technical engineering that goes into building a simple cracker. Scan the scientific journals, or read the food industry publications and a picture emerges of an army of chemists, physicists and even neuroscientists, all working to make sure you want a second cookie.

And to understand the research, you need to speak the language. There’s ‘mouth feel,’ ‘maximum bite force,’ and the important concept of ‘sensory specific satiety,’ the rate at which a food product loses its appeal as it is being eaten.

“That’s an expression that says when food has one overriding flavour, if it’s attractive, it will be really attractive to us initially, but then we’ll get tired of it really fast,” Moss said. “And so these companies make a concerted effort to make their foods not bland, but really well blended.”

That’s so people don’t get too full too fast, and stop eating too soon. “If the taste builds too much, consumption will stop … and snacks need to be eaten non-stop until the packet is finished,” Thorton Mustard wrote, back in 2002. He was a food industry consultant who revealed, early on, some of the secrets of the food industry, in a book called The Taste Signature Revealed. He wrote that fullness or satiety, is “quite a serious enemy for a product.”

Mustard claimed he could help food companies design foods that were guaranteed to be “more-ish,” which he defined as a quality that made a consumer want to eat more. It helped, he advised, if the food was easy to chew.

“If people had to chew the food to extract the flavour enjoyment, it would take longer to eat, be better digested, and the feeling of being full reached far sooner. People would need to consume less,” he wrote.

Thornton Mustard has retired and couldn’t be reached for comment, but Chris Lukehurst is continuing his work through The Marketing Clinic, the consulting company that Mustard founded.

“So people read that book, and we’ve been contacted by people saying, can you really do this? Because we’ve got a problem and we think you can solve it,” Lukehurst said.

On the art of “more-ishness,” Lukehurst explained it this way. “Some products, like most savoury snack products, want to be continually more-ish, so at the end of each product, they want you to reach out for the next product and put it in again, and they often achieve that by having an intense taste at the front of the mouth, and that dies off quickly, and so by the time you’ve finished each mouthful, you’re looking to re-taste what you’ve lost.”

Chocolates tend to be round to create a pleasant, melting sensation in the mouth.
(Martial Trezzini/Keystone/Associated Press)


The crunch is also crucial, Lukehurst said. “It’s partly the noise, the noise amplifies, through the jaw bones connected to your ears, and you can hear the crunch quite loudly when you bite. But it’s also the physical requirement to chew on something and crunch it. It just distracts you and pours your mind onto what you’re eating.”

The importance of “crunch” was confirmed in a study funded by Unilever where the scientists tested whether people’s perception of a chip was altered by the sound it made when they bit into it. The researchers concluded that “the potato chips were perceived as being both crisper and fresher when … the overall sound level was increased,” indicating another possible way to control the perception of the product, although, the authors wrote, “consumers are often unaware of the influence of such auditory cues.”

It also helps if the food dissolves quickly in the mouth, tricking the brain into believing that no calories have been ingested. It’s called “vanishing caloric density.”

“What happens is that your brain gets fooled into thinking the calories have vanished and you’re much more apt to keep eating before the brain sends you a signal …you’ve had enough,” author Michael Moss said.

The ultimate goal is the bliss point. “The company’s researchers have learned to study their products, fiddle with the formulas until they hit that very perfect spot of just enough and not too much sugar to create what they call the bliss point,” he said.

Melt-in-the-mouth appeal
Food scientists have even studied the architecture of the mouth. In a paper published in the Journal of Biomechanics, scientists from the Nestlé Research Center examined the “detection mechanisms in the oral cavity,” to study how well the mouth could detect the thickness of a plastic disc placed on the tongue. The researchers created a model that would predict the load exerted on the disc when it was deformed by the tongue.

Three years later, Nestlé announced a new chocolate with a shape based on the geometry of the mouth, that hits “certain areas of the oral surface, improving the melt-in-mouth quality while simultaneously reserving enough space in the mouth for the aroma to enrich the sensorial experience,” the press release announced.

It’s a clue to understanding why chocolates tend to be round. It seems consumers don’t enjoy a piece of chocolate as much if it has sharp edges. “Absolutely, we’re looking for chocolate to be comforting, to be a really pleasant, lovely experience in the mouth,” Chris Lukehurst said. “Melt is a very soft, soft experience, and if it’s got sharp corners, you’re really spoiling that and setting the consumer on edge slightly, before they get the melt. Much better if it’s nicely rounded and they’re already comforted and enjoying it first.”

And whatever happens on the tongue triggers a response in the brain. That’s why neuroscience is the next frontier for the food industry. Francis McGlone was a pioneer when he left academia to work for Unilever, one of the world’s largest food companies, back in 1994.

“I think I was the leading edge of something which I think is going to become far more prominent,” McGlone said. After more than a decade of industry research, he’s back in academia, but he remembers his time in the food industry fondly. “As a basic neuroscientist, I was able to look at the mechanisms that drove preference for various types of food,” he said.

What are those drivers of food preference, in McGlone’s opinion? His answer sounded familiar. “I am afraid we find high fat, high sugar, high salt foods very appealing,” he said.

“Salt, sugar and fat are the three pillars of the processed food industry,” Michael Moss said. “And while the industry hates the world ‘addiction’ more than any other word, the fact of the matter is, their research has shown them that when they hit the very perfect amounts of each of those ingredients … they will have us buy more, eat more.”

When Moss began working on his investigation into the science of food processing, he was sceptical of concept of food addiction. “Until I spent some time with the top scientists in the U.S. who say that yes, for some people, the most highly loaded salty, sugary, fatty foods are every bit as addictive as some narcotics,” he said.

Francis McGlone made a similar point in a television program for the BBC, when he put a British chef into a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine, (an fMRI), fed him chili, and took images of his brain, which showed how the burn from the chili peppers triggered the release of endorphins. “The consequence of that low level of pain is that it floods the brain with its own natural opiates, so you can see another way of kicking up a pleasure system,” McGlone said.

But many ingredients in processed food have nothing to do with taste. They’re there to reproduce a certain texture, to control the moisture level, to keep the various ingredients from separating and spoiling during the months that they will sit on the shelves.

Food companies seek the perfect spot of just enough sugar to create what they call the bliss point, says author Michael Moss. (Naum Kazhdan via Pulitzer Prize Board/Associated Press/New York Times)

“Absolutely, that’s essential to the processed food industry, that their food be able to remain in a warehouse, in shipping, and then in the grocery story for weeks or months at a time,” Moss said.

To mask the bitterness or sourness that the formulations can cause, the food industry uses flavour enhancers, invisible ingredients that trick the brain into tasting something that isn’t there, and not tasting something that is there.

“Ingredients like that are kind of bundled under what may seem like relatively innocuous labels like ‘natural flavours’ or even ‘artificial flavours,’ when truly they are much more surprising when consumers really understand what it is,” Bruce Bradley, the former food industry executive, said. “There’s tremendous amounts of money spent behind creating tastes and smells that feel real but in reality are completely artificial.”

‘These products are designed to keep you coming back to eat more and more and more. They’re trying to increase their share of your stomach.’— Bruce Bradley


Because without flavour enhancement, no one would eat it. “It would taste horrible, you’d want to spit it out,” Bradley said.

Michael Moss was treated to a special taste test, while researching his book. “Kellogg invited me into their R&D department, and prepared for me special versions of their iconic products, without any salt in them at all. And I have to tell you, it was a God-awful experience tasting those things. Normally, I can eat Cheez-Its [crackers] all day long, but the Cheez-Its without the salt? I couldn’t even swallow them. They stuck to the roof of my mouth. The real impressive moment was when I turned to the cereal, which, without salt, tasted like metal. One of the miracle things that salt adds to processed foods, it will cover up some of the off notes that are inherent to the food processing systems that they rely on.”

Bruce Bradley says all of that processing takes food to a different place. “We’re not talking about food actually being real anymore. It’s synthetic, completely contrived and created, and there’s so many problems about that because our bodies are tricked and when our bodies are tricked repeatedly dramatic things can happen, like weight gain” or endocrine disruption, diabetes and hypertension, he said.

What about the scientists who created these products? Moss says some of them are having second thoughts about their popular creations. “A number of the people I talked to invented these icons really in a more innocent era, when our dependence on processed foods was much less than it is now. And over time, they’ve come to regret how their inventions have come to be so heavily depended on by us. So yes, any number of these scientists are now looking for ways to help their companies improve the health profile of their products.”

Appreciating the power of salt, fat and sugar in snack foods could help people from overdoing it.

Bruce Bradley says he believes food companies are trying to make some changes. ” think there’s an element of it that’s sincere. I’ve certainly worked on several products where there was a sincere effort to reduce the amount of sodium or sugar in that product,” he said.

But he says there is only so much tinkering that can happen with the three basic building blocks of processed food. “To make these highly processed foods taste great, they require salt and sugar and fat, and so while there may be some very good intentions … it’s just not in the cards to get a product that tastes really great.”

Chris Lukehurst believes the food industry is making a mistake trying to formulate lower salt, sugar and fat versions of their popular brands while still hoping to match the original taste. Instead he says the food engineers should tinker with the crunch, the mouth feel and other sensory aspects to make consumers like the new versions better, for different reasons.

“What we would argue is don’t try to make it taste the same, make it work better for the consumer. So when they’re tasting this product, they may well notice a taste difference, but the emotional delivery they’re getting out of it is at least better than it was before,” he said. “Let’s find what emotions are lacking when you take the fat out. How can we make those emotions up in different ways?”

Today’s grocery shelves are filled with the promise of healthier snack foods. Cookies now sport a bright green label, claiming to be a “sensible solution.” Chips boast about “the goodness of whole grains,” and crackers proudly declare that they’ve been “baked,” not fried.

Pressure on food industry
Bruce Bradley believes the food industry has simply identified a new market opportunity. “These companies are extremely profit-focused, as are all publicly held companies out there. It is a quarter to quarter profit drill,” he said. “If the food industry can find a way to market it and make money off of it, I’m sure they will. But if, in the long term, it is decreasing the amount of food that they can sell, I don’t see that as being an avenue that they will go down.”

“There’s huge and growing pressure on the food companies now, from consumers who are concerned about what they’re putting in their mouths,” Michael Moss said. “There’s equal pressure coming from Wall Street, which is concerned about sales, and there’s starting to be increasing attention paid by government regulators. I think you have all three of those converging on the food giants right now, and of course, what will happen remains to be seen.”

Meanwhile, Moss has his own food cravings to fight. “I’m a huge fan of potato chips and I can overdo it like the next person,” he said. “But what’s really helped me is getting inside the companies and understanding how they formulate and perfect their product. I can see where they’re coming at me and appreciate the power of the salt, the fat and the sugar in potato chips. And I think that helps me control my indulgence.”

For Pat Guillet, back in her kitchen, determinedly chopping celery, there is little hope for relief. “If I had one spoonful of ice cream, I would want the whole tub,” she said. “And there were times I ate the whole tub. And I would sit there and say ‘I’ve gotta stop, I’ve gotta stop,’ really feeling completely unable to act on what my brain is telling me.”

That’s why she is bracing for a lifelong battle with the sugar demons that lurk in the processed food aisle. “These foods are so addictive, so appealing, they give you a high and you feel better,” she said. “And the thing many food addicts say is, long after the food causes us joy, long after it causes us misery, we still couldn’t stop. It becomes hard-wired and it’s very hard to overcome.”

This is the first of two special features by health reporter Kelly Crowe on how industry designs food so that we crave them.

With files from CBC’s Brigitte Noel

source: CBC.ca