Evidence is rapidly mounting that junk foods may be truly addicting. Both in animal and human studies, it seems that ultra palatable foods, especially those high in both fat and sugar (think donuts, milk shakes, cheesecake) can highjack our normal appetite regulatory mechanisms, throwing us into a perpetual cycle of desire and binging. A laboratory study adds to the current evidence that the decadent, fatty and sugary fare that has become a hallmark of American cuisine literally rewires brain circuits making it extremely difficult to say no to them.
In this study, researchers gave 1 group of rats constant access to high calorie junk food like candy bars and pound cake. As expected, they got fat very quickly. Additionally their eating became constant and compulsive to the point that even an electric shock would not deter them from indulging. A control group of mice fed a healthy, balanced diet and given only occasional access to the same junk foods gained little weight and immediately stopped eating when they anticipated the shock to the foot. When the investigators autopsied the rats’ brains, the junk food addicted rats showed the same types of changes in the reward systems of their brains as those seen in rats addicted to illicit drugs. (Nature Neuroscience Online, March 28, 2010)
To learn more about the neurobiological underpinnings of appetite, I highly recommend Dr. David Kessler’s sensational book, “The End of Over-Eating.”
My advice: Living in the perpetual food carnival of America, maintaining health and weight requires diligence in environmental control and self-control. Keep your environment as “junk food free” as possible and limit your indulgences in high risk foods to the occasional treat. Knowing how these foods can impact my brain, even looking at a big piece of cheese cake scares me now.
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