America is the top food exporting country in the world. In 2011 the U.S. exported $118.3 billion in food alone. That means we produce billions of dollars in food we don’t consume. This could theoretically explain our nation’s growing obesity and food addiction problems. Simplistically: America has so much food that we can afford to eat like there’s no tomorrow. This summation, however, conflicts with America’s hunger statistics. As of 2013, 49.1 million Americans lived in “food insecure” households. This number (15% of the US population) represents people who do not know where their next meal is coming from or who must rely upon food stamps to get by.
On the other hand, obesity affects around 93 million Americans. These Americans either have or are at risk for heart disease, joint problems, diabetes, depression and other conditions stemming from their obesity.
Many obese Americans are also listed in the “food insecure” category of government statistics. The reason obesity and poverty intersect is that many people living on food stamps purchase cheap, processed food and fast food. These are foods which may fill someone up but which have little nutritional value and can cause a number of health-related problems. They can also be addictive.
Different types of food cause a variety of reactions within the human body. Healthy food like vegetables and raw nuts do not create the same reactions in the brain as foods that are generally thought of as unhealthy such as processed sugar or bleached flour. Recent studies have shown some extreme differences between how the brain registers low-sugar and low-fat food and foods high in sugars and fats.
Researchers from Princeton University and the University of Florida found that when rats that were previously on a high-sugar diet were put on a no-sugar diet, symptoms similar to those of opiate withdrawal occurred. When the rats were returned to their high-sugar diet, they “binged” – consuming 23% more sugar than before.
Scientists in California and Italy found that rats eating a fatty liquid diet began producing chemicals similar to those produced when smoking marijuana. An Oregon study done on children found that those who normally consumed sugar had built a tolerance to the enjoyable effects of the food – needing more and more of it to activate the “reward” functions of the brain, which is where a food addiction can develop from. Addictive drugs like opiates and cocaine work similarly – the user needs to take more and more of it in order to get pleasure from use.
These studies lead to the conclusion that some foodstuffs activate neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) much the same as addictive drugs. Ever had cravings for specific foods? Foods that are bad for you? The consumer craves these foods over and over again, at higher amounts, even when they are full. This does not mean these foods “are drugs”; more accurately, some foods act similarly to drugs. Even more to the point, it is often the chemical additives to food that are producing this result.
The short answer: Foods containing sugars, fats, salt, as well as chemical additives and preservatives. However, this is incomplete. An apple does not affect the brain in the same way that peanut brittle will. The key component is how processed the food is. Here are just a few foods that are on the “addictive” list:
Food production companies have wised up to the fact that foods high in processed fats as well as sugars and salt will not only have consumers coming back for more – but have them eating larger and larger quantities of the foods. A “Hungry Man” meal is aptly named. It may fill a person up, but will make them hungry for more highly-processed food.
This, combined with lack of exercise and a sedentary (sitting down) lifestyle, accounts in no small measure for our nation getting more and more obese, all while more and more people struggle to feed their families. They are eating cheaper food which tends to be extremely high in sugar, fat, salt, chemicals and preservatives.
Sugary treats, soda, and fast food can be hard to break away from. It may seem like a lot of work or expense to change lifestyles from unhealthy eating to healthy foods. However, it is completely possible to supplement your diet with healthy food and to break the cycle of addiction. Here are a few suggestions that can work with any budget:
You can make a difference in your health and the health of your family by staying away from addictive foods and sticking with healthy, non-addictive foods. Your dietary change doesn’t have to be expensive – and it can save you and your family a lot in future medical bills and health struggles involving a food addiction.