Decoding the science behind food addiction (and how to overcome it)

Reaching out for your favorite bag of chips, chocolate, ice cream, or even biscuit to satiate hunger (and sometimes fight boredom) may seem normal. But, according to experts, that’s how processed food addiction or ‘cravings’ works. While enjoying a few bites may seem harmless, in the long run, it can invite a host of health issues – from increased waistline to lack of adequate nutrients in the body, which can further lead to various problems.

Food cravings are the dieter’s worst enemy because it is the biggest reason why people have problems in losing weight and keeping it off. The types of foods that people crave are highly variable, but these are often processed junk foods that are high in sugar, ”said Anam Golandaz, clinical dietician, Masina Hospital, Mumbai.

In an engaging Twitter thread, Trung Phan, an opinion columnist, wrote how natural foods are processed to create addictive, junk foods.

“Natural ingredients are often processed to be addictive like

* Grapes to wine
* Coca leaves to cocaine
* Poppy seeds to heroin ”

“It’s a useful framework to think about ‘corn to Doritos’.”

According to the thread, natural ingredients are processed to include fat, sugarsalt, cheese, and seasoning to give the consumer a “finger-licking” treat that never let the brain get the satiety signal due to its crunchiness turned melt-in-the-mouth experience.

processed foods Excessive consumption of calorie-dense, nutrient-poor, and highly delicious foods such as chocolate, cake, ice cream, and pizza can cause health issues. (Source: Getty Images / Thinkstock)

Similarly, other processed foods like chocolates, biscuits, and cold drinks also make people reach out to them often. Agreed Dr. Bhawna Sharma, dietitian executive, Dietetics Department, Manipal Hospital, Patiala: “Junk food are chemically-engineered. This means, the salt, sugar, fats are combined in such a way that psychologically, you crave more for it. The crunchiness, melt-in-the-mouth experience make your hunger pangs temporarily suppressed. ”

What do processed foods contain?

Most of the packaged or preserved foods include simple carbohydrates like “sugar and refined grains / flours which, while being processed, lose its bran, fiber and nutrients, making it an empty calorie food, which means very little or no vitamins and minerals,” explained Dr Eileen Canday, Head – nutrition and dietetics , Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital.

“Over and above, preserved food may contain excess salts, especially hidden salts like sodium-based preservatives or baking powder or MSG. Such simple carbohydrates digest quickly causing unhealthy spikes in blood sugars that affect mood fluctuations, builds up fat, and leaves you hungry soon after a meal – ultimately leading to cravings, and hence, overeating. Refined carbohydrates scale higher on the glycemic index score, increasing the risk of certain health conditions, ”Dr Canday said indianexpress.com.

Refined carbohydrates include white breadrefined noodles, pasta, wafers “which are crammed in most of the packaged foods”, Dr Canday added.

When does processed food become a problem?

Ingredients such as salt, sugar, and fats also help lend flavor, and extend the product’s shelf life. “Research links ultra-processed foods with a number of health problems like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other metabolic complications,” said Golandaz.

Does it mean you can’t enjoy a processed snack at all?

Consuming processed foods on some occasions is fine. It’s, however, vital to look for hidden ingredients which are dangerous for health like sugar, fat, salt, and preservatives, said Golandaz.

Whenever you pick any packet item, do check the nutritional label to know about the quality of carbohydrates it has and the amount of simple sugar. “Also, be aware of any misleading claim that the packet may carry. Many lay people may not understand certain terminologies or words such as ‘DIET’ or ‘NO’ or ‘LOW’ or ‘ZERO’ on the packet. Choose foods with whole grains or millets such as whole puffs or ragi / jowar / bajra / red rice / bhel over refined flowers like maida products, ”said Dr Canday.

food labels, food products, how to read a food label, a beginners guide to food labels, understanding food labels, indian express, indian express news It is important to check labels for packaged foods’ nutrition (Source: Getty Images / Thinkstock)

The expert added that portion control is equally important. “We can prevent food cravings by consuming fibers and protein-rich mid meals like sprouts chat, whole fruit along with nuts. Proper hydration, and most importantly adequate sleep can help, ”Dr. Canday mentioned.

How to prevent food cravings?

If you worry that you experience more food cravings, then don’t let yourself get ravenously hungry. Eat nutrient-dense foods, and most importantly, try to manage stress, Golandaz said. Agreed Dr. Sharma and explained that when one is hungry, one tends to crave sugar. “But if you eat regular homemade food, you won’t crave processed foods that are responsible for a sugar spike,” Dr Sharma said.

According to Golandaz, minimally processed food (roasted nuts, roasted chana, or makhana) can be consumed on a moderate basis. “But those that are processed at their peak (canned tomatoes, tuna, frozen fruit); foods with added flavors (yogurt, salad dressings); foods that are heavily processed (crackers, deli meat); and ultra-processed foods (soft drinks, packaged cookies) should be avoided, ”she shared.

According to Dr K Shanmugam, assistant chief medical officer, Jindal Naturecure Institute, Bengaluru, food craving is extremely common.

“These desires can be challenging to ignore, leading to excessive consumption of calorie-dense, nutrient-poor, and highly delicious foods such as chocolate, cake, ice cream, and pizza. Unfortunately, excessive calories can lead to many health issues, including acidity, obesity, diabetes, etc. ”Dr Shanmugam said, while also sharing some tips to keep cravings at bay.

food Are you making informed choices about what you are eating on a daily basis? (Source: Getty Images / Thinkstock)

* Proper calorie intake- It’s important to fuel your body with an ample amount of calories, so it doesn’t crave for more.

* Don’t fast for a long time- Make sure that you are not letting your body stay hungry for a long time because that leads to excessive eating. Scientific fasting with the help of a dietician is recommended.

* Eat nutrients- Protein-based food helps in keeping the body content.

* Avoid junk food- Limiting intake of some meals, such as those heavy in added sugar, salt, and ultra-processed products like fast food, is vital for overall health, weight management, and feeling your best.

* Stress management- When you are stressed, either you overeat or stay hungry, either of which is not good for the body. Hence, mental health also plays a vital role.

* Physical activity- You don’t necessarily have to hit the gym. A little walk, yoga and pranayama help keep the body perform its best.

* Healthy lifestyle- Early to bed and early to rise. Follow the best daily routine for better health, having enough sleep of 7-8 hours, taking breakfast, lunch and dinner on time does not allow you to overeat.

* Water intake – To keep your body detoxified, water plays a vital role. Drink enough water and avoid consuming sugar and carbonated drinks.

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