Engineered so you can’t eat one.
NUTRITION You can't stop after one bite. One serving doesn't satisfy. Might as well finish off the package. Are free refills included? We often think personal restraint is the sole factor determining whether we consume a family-size bag of chips, a pint — no, gallon of ice cream, a liter of soda, or a package of Oreo cookies. What about the gut-filling take-out Chinese food that leaves us sleepy, hungry and thirsty an hour later? (A state I call, "tungry.") It turns out that crafty scientists have waged a war against our willpower.
Some families have literally banned high-carbohydrate foods like Fruit Loops®, Cheetos® and Cheez-It® from their homes. Not because they find them appalling, but because they realize that they are irresistible. Processed foods find their origin among some 500 flavorists responsible for 90 percent of items in U.S. grocery stores. At their disposal are the chemicals to manipulate psychological and physiological properties in a manner that creates insatiable cravings. Naiveté aside, could there really be a deceitful food conspiracy going on literally right beneath our noses?
Definition of junk food (n)
1. food lacking nutritional balance: food that does not form part of a well-balanced diet, especially highly processed, high-fat snack items eaten in place of or in addition to regular meals —Bing Dictionary
Edible Two-Card Monte
Two-card monte is a sleight of hand trick where the "mark" is left holding two cards about which he feels so confident that he's willing to bet money that they don't differ from what he anticipates. Here are some examples of how food manufacturers can leave you thinking you're consuming a tasty meal without getting satisfied.
- Salt and sugar triggers thirst. Add sodium bicarbonate (1,259 mg of sodium per teaspoon) to sweet carbonated beverages and you create an endless loop of unquenchable thirst. Many snack foods likewise contain significant amounts of salt. Many fast-food shops offer to make a "meal" out of a sandwich by including chips and soda pop. Others invert the "deal" by requiring purchase of a soft drink to validate a coupon.
- Most junk food is high in carbohydrates. This is partially because corn is heavily subsidized, but neurotransmitter manipulation plays a factor. When a person craves carbohydrates, the body is actually demanding calories. That craving is a result of a feedback mechanism in which low carbohydrate levels lead to low levels of serotonin in the body. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for positive moods and satisfaction after eating; having low levels of serotonin activates a strong desire to achieve the absent elation.
So here's the two-card monte: Provide a meal that lowers serotonin, feeds us with calories but withholds sufficient nutrition to trigger neurotransmitters that tell us we're full. An order of fries or bag of chips never seems large enough. Consumers are left feeling that the reason they want more is simply because the food tastes so good. Food manufacturers grow their bank accounts by the billions as consumers grow their waistlines by the inches, which feeds the garment industry.
Getting High on Oreos?
Science students at Connecticut College under the direction of their professor used a standard conditioned place-preference test to demonstrate that Oreos® stimulate rat brains similarly to drugs. The rats got higher on Oreo filling than on cocaine or morphine. Actually, in timed tests, the rats more rapidly returned to the cookie stimulus than the hard drugs. The news sure gained traction, as the headline made a good sound bite. The test is not without critics of its methodology. On cocaine, the rats may have been too high to get their fix with adequate dexterity. Nevertheless, does this argument vindicate your chocolatey, high-fructose corn syrup, salty cookie treat?
Eat Balanced For Life
An ideal balanced meal should contain a golden ratio of 30:40:30 carbohydrates: fats: protein in order to fully satisfy cravings. The percentages vary depending upon weight and fitness routine. Because of the way foods are fortified, it is nearly impossible to achieve any ratio with exactness for each meal. It is best to use ratios as an average daily guideline. This may elucidate why popular weight-loss programs include their own prepackaged meals. Dieters can't be expected to grab improperly balanced meals from the grocer's freezer with good results.
So what's the alternative? How do we win the war against nutritional deception? Abstinence from junk food — or to satisfy an occasional indulgence, purchase a limited amount and get far away from refills before consuming it. The ideal tactic in this battle for our health is to prepare meals from natural, preferably organic, whole foods. Yes, despite the convenience of "picking up something on the way home" (translation: fast food), we need to learn how to cook nutritious meals ourselves. Regular fitness helps to burn calories and counteract occasional indulgences.
"Just add water" or "microwave ready" instant foods sound like time savers. But at the risk of shaving an equal amount of time from our longevity, is it worth it? Wouldn't you rather be A Bit More Healthy with good food? Take a look at some great recipes prepared by a registered dietitian on Sue's Nutrition Buzz.
- Food Cravings - Compulsion or Choice. serendip.brynmawr.edu
- Top 10 Foods Highest in Sodium. healthaliciousness.com
- Sweet Thirst. indianapublicmedia.org
- 4 Most Harmful Ingredients in Packaged Foods. rd.com
- Are Oreos Addictive? They're Trouble Regardless. huffingtonpost.com
- Are Oreos really as addictive as cocaine?. theguardian.com
- Major Nutrients: Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats. usda.gov
- Foods with Caloric Ratio near 30:40:30 (Carbohydrates:Fats:Protein). nutritiondata.self.com