Food addiction – does it exist?

Recent media coverage has raised the question of whether we may be addicted to some foods and overeating, in the same way we can be addicted to alcohol and drugs. I am sure that most of us could think of foods or times when we have cravings and just cannot resist that bar of chocolate, packet of crisps, biscuit etc but is it just repeating patterns of behaviour, or is it our brain crying out for more.

It is a complex issue and science is divided on where the problem lies.

Massive burger!We know that drugs and alcohol trigger certain brain wave patterns in addicts but can food do the same? It is thought by some that giving up junk food is as difficult as coming off heroin and there are certainly many people who find it so impossible to get on top of their cravings that I am sure they would agree. Jane Ogden, a psychologist at the University of Surrey explains that labelling overeating as a food addiction is not always helpful as it can let people off a sense of personal responsibility and lead them to give up helping themselves. The problem with treating a food addiction is that, unlike alcohol or drug addiction, there can be no complete abstinence from food as you have to eat.

NeuroFAST is an EU research project which is co-ordinating data on the relationship between overeating and addiction in order to reach a consensus on how to clinically classify overeating. The results will then be used to direct treatment, public policy and attitudes to obesity. However the root of addiction itself is controversial and not fully understood.

There are those who feel that certain substances or food images stimulate the reward centre in the brain, releasing dopamine and leading to damage in the areas of the brain which are responsible for self control. Others believe it is purely a question of habit or a consequence of environment, upbringing and even genes. In the case of overeating, satiety hormones are thought to be lacking in those who suffer from obesity but it is not really understood which comes first, the lack of these hormones in the first place, or obesity itself suppressing them.

For all these hypotheses the truth is it is probably a combination of both nature and nurture but one thing is for sure: the food industry for the last few decades have certainly got to grips with what drives our eating habits.

How manipulated are we by the food industry?

Good Mood Food or Food Addiction - Cauliflower BrainMichael Moss is an investigative journalist for the New York Times and has written the book “Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us“. This is a fascinating and frightening account of his investigation into the junk food industry. We learn just how calculated the design of our food is and how “the bliss point” is everything. This is the point which creates the greatest amount of craving! Not only that, when it comes to flavour, the cardinal rule for processed foods is “when in doubt add sugar”!

Interestingly humans seem programmed to like sugary, fatty tastes, but then these are very valuable nutrients for our energy stores and a caveman would have needed to favour these foods to ensure a store of fast release energy. He would, however, have eaten the food in their wholesome form and would never have exceeded more than he could expend over time.

Research on the US army found a rather interesting phenomenon that the food industry has used to their advantage. In studying how to get soldiers to eat more food to keep up their calorie intake, it was found that although they liked flavour-ful food, it was only at first, and they soon grew tired of it, whereas they would eat more of the blander foods such as white bread.

Distinct flavours tend to overwhelm the brain and messages are sent out to suppress the desire for more. The industry has exploited this by looking at what has become known as “sensory-specific satiety”, where the flavours in processed foods are designed to stimulate the taste buds enough but not so much that the brain switches off craving more.

Another industry term is the “vanishing calorie density”. Foods such as cheesy puffs are engineered so that the flavour hits the taste buds and stimulates the reward centre in the brain, but the food melts quickly on the tongue, thus tricking the brain into believing there are no calories in it which then encourages the person to eat more!

The next big debate in the food industry is the use of nanotechnology in our food but this is a subject for another day (however if you are interested in reading more on this go to www.guardian.co.uk/nanopinion).

The state of our food industry can probably best be summed up by Walter Willet of Harvard’s Department of Nutrition who is quoted as saying “the transition of food to being an industrial product really has been a fundamental problem”.

What to do about it!

I am sure many of you reading this are horrified at how hood-winked we are by the food industry but then many will argue that everything is fine in moderation. Easier said than done!

Bearing in mind how manipulative the industry is we must do all we can to protect our children. Advertising foods to young children has at least been controlled on TV to some extent but getting children hooked from an early age is the ultimate marketing aim.

What we eat when we are young can often be a template to our later eating habits. Talking to our children about healthy natural foods versus junk, getting them involved in the preparation and cooking of food and not having unhealthy snacks in the house can go a long way to setting them on the road to healthier eating.

We are absolutely passionate at Jessica’s Recipe Bag that part of the experience of our delivery of fresh, natural ingredients is the educational benefit, from improving cooking skills and one’s culinary repertoire to sharing with the family the arrival of the bag, the decision of what to cook and the cooking itself. We’d also like to point to a new campaign called “Averting a Recipe for Disaster”. Visit www.avertingarecipefordisaster.com for more information and to pledge your support.

Receiving Jessica's Recipe Bag

One of our customers described really succinctly why she is a fan of Jesssica’s Recipe Bag:

“I don’t go need to go to the supermarket or even shop online as much now and so don’t get tempted by foods we don’t need and shouldn’t eat. This means I save money too. The family know that what’s in the bag is what we are having for dinner through the week. The meal is prepared quicker as I haven’t been faffing around trying to decide what to eat tonight or having to pop to the shops for an ingredient I am missing. Also, as we tend to eat earlier, there is less chance for the family to snack unhealthily.”

So whether food addiction exists, or whether it is a habit problem, the delivery of a Jessica’s Recipe Bag can tick the box on both counts. Regularly ordering a bag is a great way of breaking some of those unhealthy eating habits such as relying on processed or take-away foods. And because we only use unadulterated products and the very best quality ingredients you can rest assured our dishes will not be manipulating your brain in any unnatural ways!

Family unpacking recipe bag