Friday, August 17, 2012
The Chemical Side of Food
****WARNING*********RANT AHEAD****TURN BACK NOW!!**** WARNING****
I'm not doing Friday Letters today because I've been meaning to put this post out there for a little while. We all know that most of the food we buy have artificial flavoring, "natural" flavoring, preservatives, chemicals and all other kinds of crap (see "natural" beetle coloring of Sbux drinks post). Chemicals are even added to food to make it smell better as we all know the olfactory senses play into how food tastes too! But do we know what these do to our bodies? Not really but we all agree it's probably not great. But do we know WHY we still prefer the TASTE of this stuff over, for instance, chicken and broccoli?
Many fast food chains and mass food producers (think chips, mac & cheese, soda, etc.) actually employ food chemists to alter their products to make them not only last longer but to taste better. Why is this a bad thing? On the surface, it doesn't seem like it is but it has an interesting effect on the body. So some basic anatomy and chemistry right? You've got taste buds...they have all these sensors that react to the atomic make up of food. Well, when you're talking atoms...you're talking chemistry so chemists can actually add chemicals to food or change the genetic make up of food to make it taste better. That's great! Except they aren't changing the taste of broccoli or kale. They're being employed by big food companies to make their products taste better. So what's wrong with that? Well...nothing at first. Having these foods once awhile has little effect on the body, it's when we have these foods more often than not. It eventually changes your chemical make up. And by changing your chemical make up, they're creating an addiction of sorts. There have been several studies that support this and I'll list out just a few highlights.
High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), monosodium glutamate (MSG), hydrogenated oils, refined salt, and various other chemical preservatives found in processed junk food does the same thing to a person's brain as cocaine does. One study conducted by researchers at both the University of Texas in Austin (UT) and the Oregon Research Institute found that prolonged consumption of junk foods results in reduced activity in the striatum, a section of the forebrain that registers reward. In a correlative study, researchers identified a similarity in dopamine production levels between drug addicts and junk food addicts. Addiction to either one essentially causes the brain receptors that receive dopamine signals to lose their responsiveness so you have to have more to feel the same level of satisfaction. Hmmm...eating more...more often. OK so more sugar and chemicals in prepared food could have this affect, especially when eating sweets but Panda, you said fast food does it too? How do they do it?
McDonald's has been surprisingly open about the chemicals in its french fries used to keep their golden color and keep them crispy. The taste of (whole) food naturally loses it's strength of flavor after the first bite and then with each additional bite. Chemicals are added to manufactured food so that each bite is as flavorful as the first. The last french fry tastes just as good to you as the first french fry did. So you were probably full half way through the meal but kept eating because it was just so good.
Back to the chemistry, a chemical reaction produced by our stomachs tells our brain that we're "full." It's gotten to the point that the chemical make up of our bodies has been so jacked up with additives that the "pleasure" part of the brain is now overriding the "full" part of the brain. That's part of the reason there's always room for jello.
This constant barrage of chemically enhanced foods bombard your taste buds so that regular, whole, healthful foods don't taste as good as the chemically altered crap. And just like getting off of any addictive chemicals (nicotine, controlled substances, alcohol), your body needs time to heal and resync. Unfortunately, that can take upwards of a month.
Here's the scenario and how many of you can relate? You start a diet. You're doing good with your chicken and broccoli, or even atkins bacon and eggs for a few days. But you're fighting the sugar cravings...OK you bust through that after about a week. But it's beyond the sugar...the healthy stuff just doesn't taste as good as the crap. Natural foods and spices do not trigger the same addictive characteristics in the brain as junk food chemicals do, because they have not been chemically engineered to overstimulate taste buds and the brain. Basically, they won't "taste" as good as the garbage. Next thing you know, you're in a hurry...you stop for one fast food meal (no bun, no fries) and for some reason, that burger with no bun and a salad tastes better to you then anything you've eaten in weeks! Chance are you've just reignited the cycle...cravings will start coming back and you'll eat more of the hamburger and salad than if you had just made it at home. Two identical meals...one will taste better than the other. Obviously, it shouldn't. But it's so hard to stay away from processed, prepared and fast food for a whole month to where your taste buds and chemistry are given an opportunity to "reset" and enjoy the healthier foods.
Let's say you stay on track...even your fruits and meats have chemicals in them these days (anyone remember the "pink slime" uproar?) Diet foods...a lot of protein bars, shakes, diet food, "100 calorie packs", etc. are laden with chemicals to "make you feel full." But your body processes "fake" vitamins and minerals differently than natural. Generally, stuff made from mostly man made ingredients don't hold much nutritional value. You're still messing with your chemical make up. And...if all this stuff worked, then no one would be fat and how would these companies make money? Something to think about.
This is all science and make no mistake, there's a lot of money to made by these companies to keep you eating...and eating...and eating...garnering virtually no nutritional value from the food. I could go all conspiracy theoriest on you and talk about the link between pharmaceutical companies that make blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetic meds and supporting you not actually getting healthier but that's a post for another day.
OK...that's my rant for the day. So...am I hypocrite? Yes. I just made a ringing endorsement for the Zone bars yesterday. The fact is I eat processed crap...I try not to but it's not easy as it's the prevalent lifestyle in America today. Am I hoping to get better? Yes. Am I actively TRYING to get better? Yes. And that's all we can do.
Alright...a Friday Funny to lighten the mood...