Fast, Quick, and Convenient… But, There’s A Catch
One of the hardest parts about trying to lead a healthy lifestyle is that we are constantly surrounded by junk food choices. Our fast-paced, frenzied way of modern living is exactly what fast food and processed food manufacturers thrive on. Massive amounts of money is spent to make these foods as desirable as possible. They’re crammed full of refined ingredients, artificial substances, and preservatives – leaving very little room for nutrition.
THE SALT, SUGAR AND FAT OBSESSION
Salt Sugar Fat: How The Food Giants Hooked Us
In his new book, Salt Sugar Fat: How The Food Giants Hooked Us, author Michael Moss paints a vivid picture of how the unhealthy food market has exploded over the last few decades, and how modern day society has become dependent on and addicted to processed foods.
Moss talks about how food companies intentionally add the three pillars of processed foods – salt, sugar, and fat – to their foods in an effort to save costs and tempt shoppers, while also allowing these products to sit on supermarket shelves for months at a time.
3 Reasons Why Processed Foods Are Bad For You
- Many processed foods are cleverly engineered to make us feel as though we’re rewarding ourselves, when in fact, what they’re really doing is short circuiting our instinctive ‘brakes’ – the ones that help to prevent us from overeating. The reason for this? Dopamine – a feel-good chemical that gets released into the brain when we eat modern day junk food or certain types of processed foods.
- Processed foods are usually loaded with high fructose corn syrup and added sugars, which are linked to devastating effects on our metabolism, insulin resistance, and cholesterol, and may cause diabetes, obesity and cancer. These foods often also contain refined carbohydrates which are broken down quickly in the body, causing an accelerated spike in blood sugar and insulin levels, and a carb crash just a few hours later. This is known as the ‘blood sugar roller coaster.’
- Highly processed foods activate an area in the brain which causes us to crave this type of food. So much so that it subconsciously becomes an addiction – and before we know it, we’re already craving our next junk food ‘fix.’ This is the same type of obsession that people who are addicted to hardcore drugs have.
MICHAEL MOSS’S TOP TIPS FOR HEALTH-CONSCIOUS SHOPPERS:
Stoop low, reach high. The most alluring products (those with the highest amounts of salt, sugar, and fat) are cleverly placed at eye-level, while healthier products are generally placed high or low.
Be wary of ‘healthy’ terms. Terms like ‘all natural,’ ‘contains whole grains,’ ‘contains real fruit juice,’ and ‘lean’ are plastered on packaging, cleverly masking what’s really inside. Get into the habit of checking the nutrition facts on all food products before you buy them.
Add up the servings. A game many companies like to play is dividing the total number of ingredients in half, or even thirds and displaying this number inside the nutrition facts box. This is especially popular for cookies and chips, because they know most people can’t resist eating a whole three-serving bag.
STEER YOUR BRAIN AWAY FROM BAD FOOD
We don’t start out in life loving slap chips and hating, for example, whole wheat pasta or steamed vegetables. This conditioning happens over time in response to repeatedly eating what we’re exposed to in the toxic food environment around us.
Scientists have speculated that once the reward system in our brain becomes addicted to high-calorie foods, we’re set up for lifelong habits of unhealthy eating and weight gain. A group of researchers has challenged these speculations and proven that this type of conditioning can, in fact, be reversed.
Proof That You CAN Retrain Your Brain
In a published study, researchers at Tufts University split a group of 13 overweight men and women into two groups. The first group followed a new weight loss programme designed by the university. Participants in this group communicated with a dietitian and attended weekly support group sessions. Their dietary plan consisted of roughly 50% low-GI carbs, 25% protein and 25% fat, and included 40 grams of fibre. The second group – a control group – didn’t follow any weight loss programme.
By the end of the six-month study, the results of the weight loss group showed significant surprising results. A series of MRI scans displayed specific changes to the reward centre of the brain, which is associated with addiction and learning. Even more interesting, the results revealed an increased desire for healthy food and a much lower desire for junk food.
‘We show here that it is possible to shift preferences from unhealthy food to healthy food without surgery, and that MRI is an important technique for exploring the brain’s role in food cues,’ said Thilo Deckersbach, Ph.D. and study author.
Train Yourself To Crave Healthy Foods
Now that you know that it is possible to ‘re-circuit’ your brain to help activate the reward centre, it’s just a matter of turning healthy eating into an everyday habit.
HOW DO I ‘RE-TRAIN’ MY BRAIN?
Here are a few easy pointers to get you started, and help you keep at it:
- Limit and keep high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods out of sight. This includes processed foods and junk food.
- Stock your kitchen with ready-to-go healthy foods. You’ll be a lot less likely to indulge in naughty foods when you can easily whip up a healthy meal in under 15 minutes. Keep easy foods like canned beans, pre-cooked chicken breasts, frozen veggies, and whole-grain pasta on hand.
- Keep healthy snacks around your home and office to help you avoid those notorious mid-morning or mid-afternoon slumps. Yoghurt, nuts, fresh fruit, raw veggies, and hummus all make easy, nutritious snacks.
- Allow yourself a few weeks to get used to your new healthy way of eating. During this time, you’ll probably find that your taste buds will adjust to these new tastes, and you’ll have a lot less cravings for unhealthy food.
- When you feel a junk food craving coming on, drink a glass of water and find something active to distract yourself with, such as going for a walk, calling a friend, or practising a few yoga moves. Keep in mind that these cravings usually pass within 20 minutes.
So, contrary to popular belief, it really is possible to ‘rewire’ your brain and stop those tempting processed, sugary, salty, and fatty food cravings. All it takes is being a little more observant about the food you buy, and putting a few daily healthy habits into practise.
Source: References available on request.
Editor: Taryn Whittles