Crunchy, fried, sugary, creamy, fatty, chocolaty, oily, rich, filling, salty, melty… What do all these adjectives have in common?? They are normally related to the foods we tend to crave the most.
The fact that you, me (and most humans for that matter) crave these types of high-caloric foods is not a joke from Mother Nature, but precisely the opposite.
In the very old days, when food was not as easily available as it is now, the more caloric the food, the more energy it’d give us, and the more chances of survival we would have. In other words, foods containing a high percentage of fat or sugar, have the highest ROI (Return of Investment, if you like the financial metaphor). That is, they provide the biggest return (energy) with the smallest investment from our side (eating time). Imagine how much quicker you can ingest 300 kcal eating French fries versus eating lettuce?
The satisfaction is real, but also pure chemistry
When we have a mouthful of our favourite craving food, our brain releases dopamine. This is a neurotransmitter linked to our nervous system that allows us to feel pleasure. And who doesn’t like to feel pleasure and having a full belly at the same time? No wonder it is addictive!
Food giants know this and spend considerable amounts of time and money trying to find the perfect combination of salt, sugar, fat, crunchiness and meltiness to reach the unique flavours and textures that would get us hooked. A lot of effort goes into it, so the result of us (simple humans) craving it is simply a natural response to these well-designed masterpieces of chemistry created by the food industry.
So there you go, guaranteed calories to survive plus feeling of pleasure, this powerful combo would not be a problem as such (who can say no to LIVE in PLEASURE?), if it wasn’t because junk food – the type that we tend to crave the most – not only makes us fat but also does nothing good for our health.
Why junk food makes us fat and unhealthy
There are a few reasons why processed/junk food is negative for us, and they all can be explained by science. I’m summarising them in two big categories here:
Inevitable over-eating – Unlike wholefoods, where normally a certain amount of “preparation” (peeling, cutting, etc) is required, processed food is ready to go. It is called Fast Food for a reason! It often is so “ready” that no cutlery is even needed, just our hands (think pizzas, ice-creams, McDonalds, bakery, KFC, Subway…). All this makes the eating process much quicker, and when we eat too quickly, it takes longer to our brain/belly to realise we are full and should stop eating.
The perfect mix of flavours and textures mentioned earlier also influences the speed at what we eat (why does it have to taste so good?!), as well as the salivary effect. We salivate more when eating in order to help the food become a puree and travel down to our stomach, however, food that comes with “liquid seasonings” such as mayo, ice cream, oil or butters, produces more salivation and helps such food to navigate better throughout our mouth, meaning that the amazing flavours mentioned above flow happily between our taste buds, tasting even better (damn it!),
The placebo effect of empty calories – It is no secret that processed food has lower nutritional value than whole, home-made food. When something is called junk, the clue in the name. Processed food normally includes more simple sugars too, which means that the food is burned quicker (that’s why we can feel hungry shortly after) while the nutrients ingested are rather poor.
On top of that, there is the rapid food meltdown effect, which happen when food literally “melts” in our mouth, like many of these foods do. With less chewing needed, this effect tricks our bodies to think we are eating fewer calories than in reality, with your brain telling your belly “we are not full yet, so keep eating”.
The struggle is real, but we can fight it!
The comfort, pleasure and satisfaction we feel after stuffing our faces with these types of foods is unavoidable. Yes… we know that now, but that doesn’t mean that it is inevitable.
How to stop addiction to “bad food” makes a whooole new post, and this one is already long enough, so best to leave it “part 2” for a future article. Until then, enjoy your cravings, but always within measure 😉
If you want to learn more about this: