Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Are some foods more addictive than others? New findings with far reaching implications!

Can some foods be compared to alcohol, tobacco or psychotropic substances from the point of view of creating addiction?. A significant number of experts are veering around to the view that there are a few foods being manufactured by the food processing industry which are capable of inducing addiction and one suspects that the industry also is fully aware of this, exploiting this knowledge to develop more and more such foods for catering to the consumers vulnerable to addiction. If this is true can the industry get away with such sinister designs and will not they be liable for class action before the judiciary for suppressing such an evidence? We cannot forget how the cigarette industry was caught doing the same and what penalty they had to pay running into billions of dollars as reparation for destroying the health and lives of millions of people in the US. Food technology has evolved into a fine art to day and creating a food with right proportion of sugar, fat and flavor is very easy. This is what the industry seems to be doing world over to improve their bottom line! In such a situation what needs to be done to reduce such addiction which is playing with lives of people in countries like the US as manifested by obesity, diabetes, hyper tension, kidney diseases etc? Here is a critique on this important issue that is worth reading. 

"Are Americans in denial about symptoms of food addiction? But are these foods addictive?  Michael Moss, author of Salt, Sugar Fat, states: "I tried to use the "A" word sparingly because the industry argues convincingly that food lacks some of the technical definitions of addiction and narcotics. They prefer words like alluring, craveable, smackable. But the aim is the same, which is to create the perfect formula and amounts of salt, sugar and fat that will send us over the moon and make their products irresistible." (2) Moss reports, "There are estimates, of course, but we're averaging something like twice the recommended amount of salt. The best estimate of sugar is 70 pounds a year. We're averaging 11 percent of our calories [from] saturated fat, the bad one linked to heart disease, and the recommendation is to get it down to 7 percent or less." (2) New study reports that highly processed foods are shown to be addictive, leaving consumers with substance dependence symptoms and behaviors. The University of Michigan is hoping that their new study will help consumers make more informed decisions. The new study confirms what many people have suspected:highly processed foods like chocolate, pizza and French fries are the most addictive (3) This is the first study to examine which foods can truly be implicated in food addiction. This has recently become a growing interest due to rising obesity epidemic. Prior studies with animals showed that highly processed foods or foods with added fat and refined carbohydrates trigger addictive-like eating behavior.  Clinical studies performed with human subjects indicated that individuals eating processed foods meet the criteria for substance dependence. (3) U-M assistant professor, Ashley Gearhardt, explains that highly processed foods are known to be preferred for their taste, it has remained unknown whether these food elicit an addiction response. Unprocessed foods such as brown rice and salmon have not been associated with addictive behaviors. (3) Erica Schulte, lead author, explains that individuals with symptoms of food addiction or higher body mass indexes report greater difficulties with processed foods. "If properties of some foods are associated with addictive eating for some people, this may impact nutrition guidelines, as well as public policy initiatives such as marketing these foods to children," Schulte said. (3) Nicole Avena, co-author of the study, reports, "This is a first step towards identifying specific foods, and properties of foods, which can trigger this addictive response," she said. "This could help change the way we approach obesity treatment. It may not be a simple matter of 'cutting back' on certain foods, but rather, adopting methods used to curtail smoking, drinking and drug use." (3)"

To be fair to the industry it must be argued that they have to look for decent returns for their investments and efforts in the form profits by creating a market for their products and after all they can sell only products consumers demand. Whether one likes it or not, organoleptic quality of foods has been the single most driving force as far as product development programs are concerned and launching a product is invariably precede by a market acceptability study trying to gauge the reaction of the consumer. Until recently consumer always decided whether a product is acceptable based on his perception regarding over all flavor including color, taste and texture and only now health aspects are coming into focus with demands being made on the industry to make healthier foods. If foods like chocolates, pizza and others with high sugar or fat or salt content are really addictive as being made out to be, there must be restrictions against their manufacture and marketing. Can any country treat foods like alcohol and regulate their sale without impinging on the rights of the consumer to decide what he wants to eat from among the products that pass the quality and safety standards prevailing there? One has to only recall the experience of the government in New York which tried to restrict the size of bottle sizes of soda which was rejected by the courts there as violation of personal freedom! Similarly look at the resistance that is emerging in the US for a simple proposal to include extent of added sugar to a product by the processing industry on the nutritional label and it is unlikely that similar efforts in reining in food industry will ever succeed!


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