Friday, September 28, 2012

Didn't Think That Was a "Magic" Brownie? Think Again!

Those brownies need not be “special” and those cakes need not be “space” cakes for you to get pleasurable feelings from them….new research shows that foods can act just like drugs in the body.

Many people find that they crave certain foods, and when given access to that food, they just can’t seem to manage eating one measly portion. For years, I’ve been telling my clients to try to think of “trigger foods” as drugs, to really think about the consequences before you bite into that cookie or take a French fry. My goal has always been to make people more mindful of what they’re eating, but I didn’t realize how accurate I was with the drug analogy. You’ll notice that foods people crave don’t tend to be naturally occurring in nature. I would guess you don’t find someone craving a cucumber, but rather, a pickle. No one craves a cup of corn or oats, but rather, tortilla chips and oatmeal cookies. The theme amongst foods people crave is the fact that they tend to be highly processed and high in fat, sugar, and/or salt. Research now shows that these heavily processed foods can act in the body just like drugs, and make it difficult to resist a food at all, or stop at just one serving size.

Oregon Research Institute published a study earlier this year that had young children look at pictures of chocolate milkshakes, and then consume them later. Children who had consumed the most milkshakes over the course of the study showed a lower response in the reward centers of the brain when given the milkshakes at the research site. One researcher said: "Over consumption of these foods down regulates reward processes [. . .] that may, in turn, make you eat more. You could be continually tying to match the earlier experience.” The result of this down-regulation can cause you to consume larger and larger portions whenever exposed to the treat, which could cause you to gain weight if exposed frequently enough. As the body becomes more accustomed to the “drug”, you need more to get the same pleasurable feeling you got the first time you tried it.

Another study showing the similarities in processed foods and drugs showed that rats go through withdrawal symptoms when sugar was taken away, and consumed 23% more once allowed to consume it again. Last year, studies done in California and Italy showed that rats who consumed a fatty liquid diet started producing endocannabinoids, which are compounds similar to those produced by marijuana. Another study from the University of Michigan recently studied neuronal cues when rats were exposed to chocolate M & M’s. The researchers identified a link between a part of the brain called the stratium and an endorphin called enkephalin which is known as a pain-relieving peptide. They found that when they synthetically injected the rats with enkephalin, the rats ate faster and consumed double the amount they did without the enkephalin. When the rats ate the M & M’s on their own, the levels of natural enkephalin increased.

MY RECOMMENDATIONS: When changing people’s diets, I always encourage them to try to stick to the most natural of foods: real fruit instead of fruit juice, old-fashioned oats instead of gluten-free dry cereal, a baked potato instead of French Fries. One reason I have for this is not just the research on the drug effects of processed foods, but processed foods also seem to be metabolized differently and can cause you to gain weight easier. Whole foods also contain much higher levels of antioxidants, phytonutrients, and fiber than their processed counterparts. I recommend you try to cut out the heavily processed foods, and try to find alternatives to your “guilty pleasures.” Try to wean yourself off of ice cream by making smoothies with yogurt, make your own egg sandwich by using whole grain English muffins with a poached egg, and drink coffee with milk and sugar (or honey!) instead of the flavored creamers. By eating more naturally, you will find that you don’t crave the things you once did, sugared foods are too sweet, salty foods are way too salty, and having one bite of a cookie is enough to get the gist- you don’t need to eat the whole box to understand the flavor and texture.

4.         2004 Mar;12(3):461-72. PubMed PMID: 15044663. 12: Stice E, Spoor S, Ng J, Zald DH. Relation of obesity to consummatory and anticipatory food reward.
5.         Enkephalin Surges in Dorsal Neostriatum as a Signal to Eat
Alexandra G. DiFeliceantonio, Omar S. Mabrouk, Robert T. Kennedy, Kent C. Berridge
Current Biology - 20 September 2012
6.         Rossmeisl M, Macek Jilkova Z, Kuda O, Jelenik T, Medrikova D, et al. (2012) Metabolic Effects of n-3 PUFA as Phospholipids Are Superior to Triglycerides in Mice Fed a High-Fat Diet: Possible Role of Endocannabinoids. PLoS ONE 7(6): e38834. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0038834
7.         Starowicz, K. M., Cristino, L., Matias, I., Capasso, R., Racioppi, A., Izzo, A. A. and Di Marzo, V. (2008), Endocannabinoid Dysregulation in the Pancreas and Adipose Tissue of Mice Fed With a High-fat Diet. Obesity, 16: 553–565. doi: 10.1038/oby.2007.106

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