Calculating Crunch: The Science Behind Food Addiction

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Junk food

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“The recovering alcoholic who keeps a daily cocktail of caffeine and nicotine coursing through his veins, and keeps white pasta and bagels on regular rotation in his diet. Not surprisingly, his alcohol cravings are through the roof, and it’s a major challenge every day to not use. In this case, the sugar from the white flour products acts in his body the exact same way alcohol does. And the caffeine is blocking the production of natural serotonin; and he may be on an SSRI to keep that precious serotonin hanging out in the synapses. It boils down to nutritional sabotage.” (PsychAlive)

Natasha Harris wanted to keep her energy up; she also really loved Coca Cola. The 31-year old mother consumed two gallons of the carbonated beverage every day until her liver became enlarged with fatty deposits and the subsequent arrhythmia it caused flat out killed her.

It’s important to note that Natasha also ate very little between guzzling from pop bottles, and smoked up to 30 cigarettes a day— she was certainly no poster child for health. But according to family, Coke was her ‘big addiction’, and she would suffer withdrawal symptoms and mood disturbances when she was without it.

Junk food consumption, binge eating, malnutrition and all of the ailments that come along with these: diabetes, obesity, heart arrhythmia, thyroid malfunction and a myriad of other problems. It is not only a social pandemic that is in our greasy hands. There is a complex science underlying the cravings fueling junk food fixation, a truth increasingly exposed by science journals, major media and other investigative studies of the food industry.

“The crunch [of a chip] is crucial. It’s partly the noise, the noise amplifies through the jaw bones connected to your ears, and you can hear the crunch quite loudly when you bite. But it’s also the physical requirement to chew on something and crunch it. It just distracts you and pours your mind onto what you’re eating.”

Noted in a paper published in the Journal of Biomechanics, scientists from the Nestlé Research Center even studied the architecture of the mouth to figure out ways to make their products more appealing, examining “detection mechanisms in the oral cavity” to study how mouths perceived and preferred different thicknesses of items on the tongue. Three years later, Nestlé announced a new chocolate in a new shape based on this scientific geometry, a product perfected to hit “certain areas of the oral surface, improving the melt-in-mouth quality while simultaneously reserving enough space in the mouth for the aroma to enrich the sensorial experience.” (CBC)

Food companies seek the perfect spot of just enough sugar to create what they call the ‘bliss point.’ -Michael Moss.

The Guardian UK reported about a “class war” wherein government and a scarcely-regulated food industry were making and marketing products loaded with addictive substances engineered specifically to both bypass neurological signals that would tell people when to stop eating and mimic pleasure systems that would rush chemicals through the brain, inciting addiction.

“I spent some time with the top scientists in the U.S. who say that yes, for some people, the most highly loaded salty, sugary, fatty foods are every bit as addictive as some narcotics,” said Michael Moss, author of Salt, Sugar, Fat.

Most of the ingredients and processes ‘essential’ to creating processed foods perpetuate goals of an industrial food trade dependent on chemical cocktails to preserve, texturize, moisturize, flavour and separate unnatural substances–supporting big benefits to manufacturers and retail and little benefit to consumers. Flavour enhancers masking the bitterness or sourness that these chemical combos can create trick the brain into tasting something that isn’t there, as well as mask the taste of manufactured components that are.

“We’re not talking about food actually being real anymore. It’s synthetic, completely contrived and created, and there’s so many problems about that because our bodies are tricked and when our bodies are tricked repeatedly dramatic things can happen, like weight gain, endocrine disruption, diabetes and hypertension.” -Bruce Bradley, former food industry executive who spent 15 years working at General Mills, Pillsbury and Nabisco.

1 thought on “Calculating Crunch: The Science Behind Food Addiction”

  1. What you are leaving out are all the reward systems in the brain that are both triggered and decimated by hyperpalatable foods. Many of the neural signals involved in addictive behaviour also appear to be active in food reward. Naturally
    occurring opioids in the brain (including endorphins, enkephalins, dynorphins,
    and endomorphins) play an important role in neural reward processes that can
    lead to addictive behavior.

    As I reported in my latest book, The Hunger Fix, substance abuse researchers say that the brain adaptions that result from regularly eating so-called hyperpalatable foods – foods that layer salt, fat, and sweet flavors, proven to increase consumption – are likely to be more difficult to change than those from cocaine or alcohol because they involve many more neural pathways. Almost 90 percent of the dopamine receptors in the vental tegmental area (VTA) of the brain are activated in response to food cues.

    Brand-new research also shows direct evidence of lasting and fundamental injuries to a part of the brain that helps us regulate our food intake, the hypothalamic arcuate nucleus. Within three days of being placed on a high-fat diet, a rat’s hypothalamus (the area of the brain that responds to the hormones that signal hunger and satiety, pair and maternal bonding and certain social behavior) shows increased inflammatio ; within a week, researchers see evidence of permanent scarring and neuron injury in an area of the brain crucial for weight
    control. Brain scans of obese men and women show this exact pattern as well.


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