Tuesday, June 23, 2009

How industrial-food scientists turn food into drugs

The New York Times yesterday published an article about David A. Kessler's new book, "The End of Overeating" (link goes to Amazon.com page, which also has a video interview with Dr. Kessler). From the article:
"When it comes to stimulating our brains, Dr. Kessler noted, individual ingredients aren’t particularly potent. But by combining fats, sugar and salt in innumerable ways, food makers have essentially tapped into the brain’s reward system, creating a feedback loop that stimulates our desire to eat and leaves us wanting more and more even when we’re full."
The article -- and the book -- are worth reading. Kessler's essential point is that food scientists expertly "tweak" quantities of fat, sugar and salt in order to "hijack our brains" and make us crave, even need, their processed junk food. They do this by testing various combinations in order to reach "bliss points" -- that make some industrial food products almost irresistible.

This is the same point made by Michael Pollan in The Omnivore's Dilemma when he wrote: "The power of food science lies in its ability to break foods down into their nutrient parts and then reassemble them in specific ways that, in effect, push our evolutionary buttons, fooling the omnivore's inherited food selection system."

And Neal Barnard's entire book, Breaking the Food Seduction, is about how specific foods interact with the body in precisely the way drugs do to create something similar to addition. He goes into detail about a particularly addictive food: Chocolate. He writes that "chocolate is not just a single drug-like compound -- it's basically the whole drugstore: traces of mild opiates, caffeine, amphetamine-like components, and the equivalent of a slight whiff of marijuana."

As these and other authors (including us) continue to expose this trend in food science, which started out with food preservation, then developed techniques for making stale foods look fresh and now are perfecting methods for making foods interact with the body like addictive drugs, a rising public awareness of this phenomenon will motivate people to seek help.

The Spartan Diet is one cure. The Spartan Diet contains exactly zero food products created or "tweaked" by food science. There is no processed or industrial foods of any kind. Also: The Spartan Diet contains no cheese, chocolate or other foods that create a craving-satisfaction cycle of drug-like dependence.