Sunday, April 11, 2010

Junkies, and overeating, part 1

I have been interested in the science of addiction for some time, as I think it's interesting from both a scientific and doctrinal point of view.

Some few of you may recall my post here where I stated with little discussion that junk food is addictive. I've recently had reason to review that more fully.

Yes, that's an electrode stuck in his brain.

There is a recent Nature Neuroscience paper here, that, while fairly technical, indicates that certain kinds of food (in this experiment they used bacon, sausage, cheesecake, pound cake, frosting, and chocolate), fed to lab rats, lead to the exact same kinds of addictive behavior found in cocaine, heroin, or alcohol use.

Whoa! says the skeptic. What do you mean by exact?

By exact same kind, I mean EXACT-- the molecular mechanism described in this paper is identical to that found in similar experiments using cocaine and heroin to reward the rats, instead of fatty foods. The previous work has been replicated in cats, monkeys, and humans, so while there is no direct proof yet, there's really no reason to suspect that the mechanism found here will be different in humans.

Therefore, under certain circumstances:


Interesting, eh?

I have recently read (and highly recommend) "The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite" which goes into much more depth.

The author, the former head of the FDA, spent a lifetime researching this very topic. And his book argues (persuasively, in my opinion) that these foods can have just as strong a pull as cocaine.

The basic argument is that there are certain kinds of food termed "palatable", that is, consumption of same drives the desire to eat more. There are certain foods, however, that appear to go the extra mile. These foods share certain characteristics: 1) they are some combination of sugar, fat, and salt; 2) eating them produces a "multisensory experience", and 3) they are strongly associated with positive emotional experiences.

Allow me to illustrate:

Let's check the list.
1. Sugar, fat, salt? check.
2. Multisensory eating experience? Good grief, Katie cooked a batch of these yesterday and you can smell them from next door. And she manages to get that top crust just a bit crispy, while leaving all the gooey goodness inside intact. The chocolate chips are melting on the inside, which give a great burst of chocolate flavor when you first bite in, then as you crunch down on the top layer you have a variety of textures for your tongue to experience. Then as you chew it all rolls into one big ball of chocolate nirvana before slowly sliding down your throat. The next bite awaits...
3. Positive emotional experiences? These are and will forever be associated in my mind with birthday parties, desserts on dates, and other celebratory events. Brownies are supposed to make you feel goooooood......

Foods that fit the description above are termed "hyper-palatable" and are to a compulsive eater what coke is to a junkie. And the rat study, as well as many similar studies, argues this frightening point: chronic consumption of these foods will make you into a compulsive eater.

How, then, to steer clear of such foods, in the current super-saturated culture of America? It's the latter half of the book that details how to deal with this problem, which I will discuss in another post.

1 comment:

Sarahbelle said...

Tonight for dinner I made a Pork Tenderloin that, pre-roasting, was dredged in a mixture of cornstarch, white sugar, salt and pepper, and browned in peanut oil; and then, 4 times during roasting, and once after, was basted with a mixture of maple syrup, molasses, cinnamon, cloves and cayenne.
Did that hit all the requirements???