Conditioned to Eat Unhealthy?

I have blogged about food for some time now. But I will today. I read a fascinating article on ESPN.com of all places. I highly recommend reading it. But here’s the gist of it. The journalist attends a Washington Nationals baseball game with the former Food and Drug Administration commissioner and they talk about food. The former commissioner, Dr. David Kessler, has also authored the book The End of Overeating, which was published earlier this calendar year. Kessler proposes that food has actually overtaken our rational decision-making when it comes to food. Essentially, we have been conditioned by the food industry to desire to eat more and more of these types of foods. For Kessler, salts, sugars, and fats from the evil Trinity of food. These have all become so complex and layered in the foods we eat, that the level of conditioning within us has risen several layers. I don’t understand all the scientific stuff behind it, but these foods ignites the pleasure circuitry in our brains, so not only does the food taste really, really good, but it also causes us to desire that food more. Therefore, Kessler suggests that foods loaded with sugars, salts, and fats control our brains to desire more and more of the same, no matter how full we get. This is a scary thought. But I can relate. I do not often have cookies or brownies around the house but every now and again I splurge. When I do have one of these delectable goodies around, I will usually eat one to finish off breakfast in the morning. The problem is though, that I begin to crave another one throughout the day and before I know it, the pan of brownies has disappeared from my stove top . . . and it’s not even lunch time yet.

There were a couple quotes that stuck out to me from the article:

“In America, we don’t just eat to feel full. We eat to medicate and stimulate ourselves.”

“What’s needed is a less hysterical social shift — away from food as a source of psychological entertainment and escape, and back toward food as a source of physical nutrition and sustenance.”

We need to recover food as food, as the life-giving source that it is and not turn it into a form of medication. It’s hard to break our addictions, and sadly, I think too many Americans are addicted to food.

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One Response to Conditioned to Eat Unhealthy?

  1. christophermahlon says:

    One quick way to understand the underlying chemistry here is to hark back to humanity’s origins. For most of human history, people just ate whatever they found. Hunting is a fairly new addition to our diet (In relative terms) and farming is even more novel.

    Because of this history, our brain is hardwired to love sugars and fats and salts, because in most foods, these things signify high calorie counts, which means the food has tons of energy stored up for our use. That’s not such a huge problem if you’re walking five miles every day. But now that we can make anything out of corn and we’re lucky if we walk a half a mile in a day this craving for sugars, fats, and salts is backfiring on us.

    We’re glutted, but our brains haven’t had enough evolutionary time to adapt. You could argue that our bodies are still trying to adapt to the agricultural revolution, as lots of people are gluten intolerant, and it isn’t entirely clear that refined flours are all that good for us.

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