Have you ever wondered why a bowl of the humble Dalia is simply not as inviting as a Black Forest gateau that consists of several layers of chocolate sponge cake sandwiched with whipped cream and cherries? Or that fluffed packet of chips that promise an ‘onion and cream’ taste? Dalia is what the nutritionist advises you to eat for its nutritive and fibre content. The other foods we mentioned are termed junk food or empty calories that make you gain unhealthy weight.
The reason lies within our brains. The makers of junk food use the programming that your brain has undergone to full effect. They literally engineer the junk food to make you eat it, overeat it and want more of it more often.
Most of us struggle to say no to junk foods because they are just so addictive. Stephanie Kay, the celebrated food and nutrition blogger, says that there are many reasons why junk food is so addictive, but knowledge is power and when you know better you can do better.
Junk Food is Actually not “Food”
Although these junk foods are referred to as “food” they are in fact not food at all. Stephanie Kay says, junk foods are food-like products that resemble food and may contain food, but they are not food themselves. In her opinion, real food comes from one of two places; plants or animals, and that’s it.
“Real food is from Mother Nature, it grows on the land, grazes on the grass, flies in the skies, or swims in the waters. Real food does not have a barcode, nor does it have ingredients, because real food is ingredients. On the contrary, “junk food”, just as the name implies, is junk. It is defined as “pre-prepared or packaged food that has low nutritional value” and is also referred to as processed food. The catch? It often tastes great.
Chemically engineered to make you crave:
Nutrition expert Stephanie Kay explains that the chips, cookies, or candies we salivate after are processed items that resemble food and are chemically engineered to make you want more of it. “When you eat these foods you are not only up against the food itself, you are up against food science experts, brands and companies whose sole purpose is to create foods that people will love, and want more of, so they can make a profit… The time and energy that companies put into creating junk food are about more than just creating something that tastes good, it is a precise science that considers addictive behaviours, large studies, marketing practices and finding the exact combination of taste, texture, colour and design to get you to eat more,” Kay says.
The “Bliss-Point” Concept:
She highlights the fact that food manufacturers spend millions of dollars to create products that reach the “bliss point”. This is the point at which the ingredients are optimised to deliciousness to keep you coming back for more. “The bliss point of food is the exact balance of salt, sugar, fat and flavours that isn’t too much but isn’t too little and leaves your brain craving more. In fact, this is just one of the many tools that food engineers use to create highly addictive forms of processed food,” says Stephanie Kay.
Junk Food rewires your brain’s natural responses:
You may have noticed that when left to ourselves and when we are following a normal routine, our body lets us know when we are thirsty, hungry, tired etc. Our bodies are equipped with natural built-in systems that tell us when to eat more and when to stop eating. Now, look at what junk food does to this natural programming. It overrides all of those built-in systems as eating junk food can bring a great deal of pleasure, and it can stimulate your body’s reward system. “This system was designed to “reward” you when you do things that encourage survival, including eating, and when this happens your brain releases feel-good chemicals, including dopamine. The brain is hardwired to seek behaviours that stimulate the reward system, however, the problem with junk food is that it can stimulate this system in a way that is far more powerful than the one you would get from whole foods,” Kay says.
Why potato chips are more fun than plain boiled potatoes:
Stephanie Kay gives the comparison of Potatoes – a whole food that is grown in the dirt on the land, while potato chips – a junk food version of potatoes are made in a factory and come in a bag. When offered a choice of one of the two, most people could easily eat an entire bag of potato chips but would struggle to eat multiple plain potatoes, Kay bets. “As we eat junk food, the brain neurons pump out more and more dopamine, giving us a feeling of pleasure. When released, dopamine fits into a receptor in the brain, much like a key fits into a lock, and when the fit is right the pleasure is sensed. However, when you consume junk food a strange thing happens; the body’s nervous system curbs the activity of the receptors, a form of protective physiological reaction to an abnormal level of dopamine activity, meaning you need more junk food (to produce more dopamine) to stimulate this same level of reward. So, while eating a chicken breast and salad might stimulate a moderate release of dopamine, eating a pint of ice cream will release massive amounts of dopamine making it seem more rewarding.”
What’s the harm in eating junk food?
Junk food messes with our hormones. Let me explain how by talking about three hormones: Ghrelin, leptin, and insulin.
Normally, ghrelin levels go up dramatically before you eat; this signals hunger. They then go down for about three hours after the meal. Another hormone – Leptin — the appetite suppressor — appears to be the bigger player in our body’s energy balance. Some researchers think that leptin helps regulate ghrelin.
“Leptin is known as the gatekeeper of our appetite whose role is to signal to the body when it is full, while ghrelin and insulin also influence how much you eat and when. Unfortunately, junk food works to override all these natural systems making it very difficult for the body to recognize when you are actually hungry or actually full,” says Stephanie Kay. We overeat empty calories and become obese – inviting diseases that go with the condition.
The era of marketing and how we are fooled:
The junk manufacturing companies, as well as their advertising and marketing teams, play on our emotions and feelings. The junk food makers package those junk foods in an enticing way, create associations between certain foods and certain activities, like popcorns and fizzy drinks when you are at the multiplex for a film screening, etc. Some of these patterns become so hardwired that when you do see these specific foods, or even think about them, your brain begins to trigger the memories and emotional response that came along with it, encouraging you to do it again. This is the psychology of junk food.
What are our options of healthy food as against junk?
Fruits: apples, bananas, oranges, and berries
Vegetables: Leafy greens, sweet potato, carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower
Whole Grains: Dalia, Sooji-Dalia idlis, Cereals, oats, brown rice, quinoa, and wheat
Seeds and Nuts: Almonds, walnuts, flaxseeds and sunflower seeds
Legumes: Beans, peas, and lentils
Lean Protein Sources: Fish, eggs and poultry
Dairy: Milk, buttermilk, chaach, curd, yogurt, cheese, and fermented dairy products like kefir
Healthy Fats: Sarso (mustard) oil, olive oil, nut butter, avocados, and coconut
Healthy Beverages: Water, green tea, and herbal teas, kahwa, chaach, jaljeera, kokum sherbet
Why choose Real and Healthy food:
We give you just a few virtues of healthy foods below that explain why you must say no to greasy, sugary, cheesy delicacies and choose wholesome nutrition that gives you healthy calories, saves you from obesity, helps you lose unwanted weight, and retain good health.
Loaded with important nutrients. Unprocessed animal and plant foods provide the vitamins and minerals you need for optimal health. …
Low in sugar.
Better for the environment. …
High in fibre. High fibre foods release energy slowly, whereas sugar-laden foods offer you a sudden burst of energy. Helps control blood sugar. High fibre foods release energy slowly, whereas sugar-laden foods offer you a sudden burst of energy.
Good for your skin.
Helps lower triglycerides. No more cholesterol trouble.. The lesser the threat of heart attacks, stroke etc.
Disclaimer: Tips and suggestions mentioned in the article are for general information purposes only and should not be construed as professional medical advice. Always consult your doctor or a professional healthcare provider if you have any specific questions about any medical matter.