Most of us know the feeling of that unstoppable craving driving us to seek out something sweet and devour it in a flash. That uncontrollable yen for cookies, cake or ice cream or that whole basket of bread calling to us to finish it off. Why does that cookie have such power over us, even though we know it will make us fat and sick? Is it an indication of our moral weakness, lack of will power, or is it a powerful hardwired brain response over which we have little control?
Debate has raged recently about whether hyper-processed junk food is addictive in the same way that heroin or cocaine is addictive. A new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that, in fact, higher sugar, higher glycemic foods can be addictive.
That means that the reason why almost 70 percent of Americans are overweight and one in two Americans has pre-diabetes or Type 2 diabetes is not gluttony, lack of willpower or absence of personal responsibility. The reason is plain old, garden variety biological addiction.
This study showed two things.
First, the body responds quite differently to different calories, even if the protein, fat and carbs (and taste) are exactly the same.
And second, foods that spike blood sugar are biologically addictive.
This game-changing study must force a shift in the conversation about obesity in America. There are 600,000 processed foods in the marketplace, 80 percent of which have added hidden sugar. The average American consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar a day, mostly hidden, and the average teenage boy has 34 teaspoons a day (more than two 20 ounce sodas). One serving of Prego tomato sauce has more sugar than a serving of Oreo cookies. Sweetened yogurts can have more sugar than a can of soda.
Sugar is the core ingredient used by the food industry to make bad ingredients (processed flour and chemicals) taste good. Our consumption has increased from 10 pounds per person in 1800 to 140 pounds per person per year today.
When a 12-year-old boy needs a liver transplant after a steady diet of soda and white flour, or when a 2-year-old can’t walk because he is too fat at 50 pounds, we can no longer point to personal responsibility as the solution to our obesity epidemic.
No one wants to be fat or become a drug addict. No one wants their life destroyed by disability and illness. We have policies and laws that protect people from alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs of abuse. Sugar and flour (and too much starchy white potatoes and white rice) or products containing them appear to be no different. In fact, some animal studies show that sugar is eight times as addictive as cocaine.
It is time to stop blaming the fat person. Can we really blame our children if we freely give them drugs of abuse in the school lunch line or as after school snacks? Can we really blame the average overweight person?
Here are 5 clues you may be addicted to sugar, flour and processed food:
- You consume certain foods even if you are not hungry because of cravings.
- You worry about cutting down on certain foods.
- You feel sluggish or fatigued from overeating.
- You have health or social problems (affecting school or work) because of food issues and yet keep eating the way you do despite negative consequences.
- You need more and more of the foods you crave to experience any pleasure or reduce negative emotions.
If you are among those whose brain chemistry, taste buds and hormones have been hijacked by the food industry (up to 70 percent of us, including 40 percent of children), then it is time to stop blaming yourself and consider food rehab or a sugar detox. It is time for all of us to take back our health and demand that our children be protected from addictive substances in our schools and from the insidious marketing practices directed at them from the food industry.
NOTE: All credits for the content of this post go to Dr. Mark Hyman.
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