Why Certain Foods Can Be Addictive

Can some people react to certain foods the same way an alcoholic or addict gets “hooked” on their substance of choice? Yes, according to a new study that will appear in the August 2011 print issue of Archives of General Psychiatry. A research team led by Ashley Gerhardt, M.S., MPhil., of Yale University examined links between food addiction symptoms and neural activation in 48 young women ranging from lean to obese. They found that persons with an addictive-like eating behavior seem to have greater neural activity in brain regions similar to substance dependence.

“Based on numerous parallels in neural functioning associated with substance abuse and obesity, theorists have proposed that addictive processes may be involved in the etiology of obesity,” write the researchers. “As predicted, elevated [food addiction] scores were associated with greater activation of [brain] regions that play a role in encoding the motivational value of stimuli in response to food cues.”

The question, according to boomer-generation brother and sister authors Dian Griesel, Ph.D. and Tom Griesel, more specifically becomes, “Why do some people react with addictive tendencies when seeing or tasting a milkshake, candy bar or bag of chips yet not have a comparable reaction with a carbohydrate like fresh fruit, for example? Does a juicy steak produce addictive tendencies?” Their conclusion: These addictive reactions are most likely the result of the plethora of refined foods, modern packaged foods and un-natural combinations of foods we have been increasingly exposed to over the last 40 years. “We have no doubt that certain foods are addictive,” says Dian, who has spent the past 15 years working with drug development companies. “The real question is, ‘What is it that makes these foods so addictive?’”

Increasingly, the scientific literature suggests that sugar consumption, in any form, may be the culprit. Yet in their new book, TurboCharged: Accelerate Your Fat Burning Metabolism, Get Lean Fast and Leave Diet and Exercise Rules in the Dust (BSH, 2011), the Griesels point out that our bodies are perfectly capable of consuming, processing and thriving on “natural” foods. However, it is these totally unnatural man-made products that are causing the problems.

“The rise of obesity and other modern diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, high triglycerides and hypoglycemia, to name a few—along with so-called ‘food addiction’—are all the end result of consuming too many of these ‘engineered’ modern foods in our daily diets,” say Dian and Tom.

Tom says, “These modern foods are deliberately designed to stimulate and excite our taste buds and brains. They all contain refined carbohydrates which, after becoming nutritionally neutered via processing, are often produced with refined sweeteners—both real and artificial, fats and problematic trans-fats, unnaturally high amounts of dietary omega-6 fatty acids from vegetable and manufactured oils, salt, a cornucopia of artificial chemicals, dyes and additives that make these packaged items lethal to our health and addictive to many.”

“Processed food manufacturers know this and create their formulas and recipes with this in mind. They hope you will become addicted to their product. Packaged food items are the highest-profit items in a grocery store; consequently, they are allotted the most space. It is profits, not health, that drive these products, advertising and sales,” elaborates Dian.

“Manufacturers would like us to believe that if it tastes good, it can’t be that bad. They often use marketing tricks or artificial food dyes to fool consumers into thinking that this stuff is healthier than it is,” says Tom.

The Griesels’ conclusion: Refined and processed foods are hazardous to our health, particularly to those who have increased sensitivity to them. Work on satisfying your urges and cravings with the whole natural foods we were all designed to eat. Eat some fruit when the sweet craving strikes.

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