Obesity is becoming an ever-growing problem in today’s society. In the US, one third of adults and 17 percent of teens and children are overweight. The statistics in Europe, Latin America, and the Pacific Nations are also disheartening. But if this is such a problem, why can’t we just portion our meals to suit our needs? Why is it so hard to give up some of our favorite albeit fatty foods? The answer, according to several studies, might be found in the very food we are eating.

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We all need food to survive, yes, but there is a time when too much of a good thing can distort our perspective. Processed foods and sugary drinks, in particular, are said to be responsible for messing with our brain functions in the same way cocaine, nicotine, and other drugs do. Before you dismiss this information as just another way for health conscious organizations to drum up attention, you must know that there have been 28 papers published on the topic this year alone. And as evidence of addictive qualities in certain products multiply, the battle for consumer safety only becomes more heated.

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It's often said that it's fine to have "fun" food as long as it's consumed in moderation, but the addictive qualities in these foods may make it difficult for the average person to get a proper sense of what "moderation" in this case means--and, once aware, we may still have trouble sticking to these boundaries.

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In one study, a group of rats was fed fatty foods produced by several large multi-national companies. Those who were exposed to these unhealthy foods for 18 to 23 hours a day became obese. Over time, the rats even began binge eating, showing a preference for fatty foods despite the availability of healthy choices. Not only that, but results also revealed that the rats developed the same brain patterns seen in those given cocaine.

In another study, 10 obese participants were observed for their levels of dopamine receptors. Dopamine is a chemical produced by the brain that signifies reward. While we can naturally and easily increase our dopamine levels by exercising, other people use drugs. Unfortunately, those who dabble in drugs will eventually dull their dopamine receptors, which is one reason why drug addicts always seem to need larger doses as the condition progresses. The same holds true for food addiction, so it is no surprise that the 10 obese volunteers also had low levels of dopamine in their brain.

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While it’s still too soon to tell whether these fatty foods are really out to make food addicts out of us, equipping yourself with the right information can at least help you make informed decisions.


If you want to start eating healthier, check out these articles on FN:


(Photo by Susest via Flickr Creative Commons)

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