Some Foods May Be More Addictive than Drugs

The New York Post has written an article about the new book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael Moss. The book, called “Hooked: Food, Free Will, and How the Food Giants Exploit Our Addictions,” focuses on food chemistry and how some foods can be more addictive than drugs.

In the new book, he writes, “The smoke from cigarettes takes ten seconds to stir the brain, but a touch of sugar on the tongue will do so in a little more than half a second. That’s nearly twenty times faster than cigarettes. Not only can food be as addictive as cigarettes, alcohol, and some drugs. But in some way even more so.”

The book explores “the unholy trinity” of fat, salt and sugar. These three substances release the hormone dopamine that brings pleasure to your brain. In small doses, that’s fine. Your body needs a certain amount of all three to function. However, our modern diet includes very high amounts of all three. When you eat large quantities, they can become addictive, and your brain seeks out more dopamine from the source — just like any drug craving.

When we see, smell, or merely think about chocolate cake, it’s the dopamine that makes us want a slice — as much as the sugar and butter in the cake,” Mr. Moss wrote. “This is a tool for our survival. We need to eat in order to live, and dopamine is there to motivate us to eat.”

The book doesn’t focus on home cooking but instead on manufactured foods. Mass-produced foods — both from the supermarket and fast food — are filled with these substances to make them tastier and keep us buying more. The processed foods taste great while you’re eating them and go to work in your body, telling your brain things are wonderful even though they aren’t healthy foods. Sometimes you don’t even notice the flavors consciously; they are faint but are manufactured to ensure that the chemical structures are there, rewarding your brain. It makes sure you become a repeat customer.

Glucose can start arriving in the blood within ten minutes of eating something, which is as fast as snorted cocaine,” wrote Mr. Moss. “Products that are highly refined will send our blood sugar soaring the fastest, and the faster it soars, the faster it hits the reward system in the brain.” And afterward, when your blood sugar drops, that’s when you want another snack.

What might be most distressing about this, he pointed out, is that you can buy junk food anywhere. It’s not like drugs, cigarettes or alcohol that are illegal or controlled. Anyone of any age can buy ice cream or a Big Mac. He also pointed out the unsettling fact that Philip Morris, the tobacco company, owned Kraft — the makers of everyone’s favorite mac and cheese — for almost 20 years.

Articles and books like these are great reads when you are looking to make changes to your diet. In part, because they are highly educational. It’s interesting to learn how fat, salt and sugar impact the brain and make you crave more. It can help you withstand cravings when you understand why they are happening. But, also because they make you a little angry. When you read things like this and learn about how these companies manipulate us all day after day to eat more unhealthy food, it makes you avoid it more.

It’s easier to swear off the brands when you read about how they are exploiting all of us. As Mr. Moss puts it, “They go after our emotions and our instincts and our vulnerabilities.”

Banner image: Erik Mclean via Unsplash
March 03, 2021
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