Tag Archives: junk food

Good News Monday: It’s Not You, It’s Your Brain

Unhealthy, processed food, snacks
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[Reprinted from studyfinds.org]

Our brains may be wired to seek out junk food, scientists say

by Chris Melore

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WAGENINGEN, Netherlands — If you’ve ever snuck into your kitchen for a midnight snack, you probably know exactly where all the sweet and tasty treats are hidden with your eyes closed. Researchers in the Netherlands say this isn’t just about good memory, the human brain may actually be wired to hunt down high-calorie food. Their study finds humans are significantly better at remembering where junk foods are kept than they are with healthier options.

A team from Wageningen University & Research believes the human brain has evolved to focus on memorizing where high-calorie foods are located. Study authors theorize this allowed our hunter-gatherer ancestors to survive in tough environments with few food options.

The study tested 512 participants who were put through a sort of food-memory maze. Researchers had the group follow a fixed route through a room where eight foods or food-scented pads were strategically placed.

As each participant walked through the maze, they either tasted the food or smelled the pads. These tasty options ranged from apples and cucumbers to potato chips and chocolate brownies. The group was also asked to rate how much they like each food they encountered. Researchers then gave the volunteers a surprise quiz on where these snacks were located.

Junk food more appealing to our mind, too

The results reveal the group was 27 percent more accurate at picking the right locations of high-calorie foods than low-calorie options. Participants were even better with food scents, spotting high-calorie pads with 28 percent more accuracy than low-calorie ones.

Researchers report that the results weren’t affected by whether the high-calorie snack was sweet or savory. It also didn’t seem to matter if the participants liked the foods or not. Overall, people were 2.5 times (or 243 percent) better at memorizing where actual food was compared to food-scented pads.

Is there a downside to this skill?

While this ability likely served humans well in the distant past, the study suggests it could lead to problems today. Researchers hint that the memory bias towards high-calorie foods can create dieting issues for many people.

They add that brains which can resist the urge to hunt down sweeter snacks will likely avoid these dieting problems. Researchers are now looking at how the high-calorie memory bias affects present day eating habits.

The study appears in Scientific Reports.

…But Liquor is Quicker

Anyone else remember the saying, “Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker”? The expression is a quote from American poet Ogden Nash’s 1931 poem, “Reflections on Ice Breaking”.  It also appeared in the 1971 movie, “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory”.

In honor of Halloween, I’m sharing the following.  My commentary below in red.

HOW TO QUIT CANDY AFTER HALLOWEEN

Weaning yourself off the good stuff once and for all.

By: Noah Lehava

There were tons of reasons Halloween was the best holiday as kids. One, you got to walk around all night in a ridiculous outfit, holding big bags that strangers would just throw full-sized candy bars into. Two, you’d have a cache of Starburst and Reese’s to last you weeks (or months, if you had a parent moderator). Three, your metabolism (and energy) and general lack of nutritional knowledge meant the guilt of stuffing your face with one last mini Snickers before bed didn’t exist. But alas, we’re adults now, which means we know that eating piles of candy isn’t actually all that good for us. That’s not to say we’re expecting you to avoid itty-bitty bags of sugary stuff all Halloween week long (that’s a thing, right?). But the struggle to quit sugar post-indulgence is real. Which is why we’ve come up with a few ways to wean yourself off the good stuff (in the palate sense).

GO FOR THE COMBO

This technique is what we like to call step one of the recovery process. When you really just want to pile M&Ms into your mouth until your stomach hurts, instead, eat or drink something healthy, like a green tea and vegetable-loaded salad for lunch, then finish it off with a bite of candy. You’ll be full from the nutrition-packed meal, but have just enough sugar-coated chocolate on your palate to satisfy a craving.

To go one step further, try drinking a combination of 1 part orange juice to 7 parts water.  There’s just enough sweetness to satisfy cravings, and the water fills you up. This is also great to have in the morning — often what we think is hunger is actually thirst, especially after fasting all night while we’re sleeping. You might not even crave those pancakes!

THE SWAP-OUT

We all know that the really bad stuff in candy is the added sugar (and, OK, there’s other stuff in there, but let’s not get too technical). But good sugar, fructose, by way of fruit, is an easy way to crush cravings, plus you’ll be filling up on the extra stuff in fruit like water, fiber, and, you know, actual nutrients.

Sugar is sugar. It’s generally better to avoid it, and satisfy the urge for sweetness with carrots, red or yellow peppers, etc. Experts suggest that it’s best to eat fruit with your meal rather than in-between.  And choose whole fruit, not juice.

SNACK

Not on candy! Waiting too long between meals and the impending hunger that comes with that will have you reaching into the plastic pumpkin every ten minutes. Eating regularly throughout the day keeps your blood sugar level stable—aka no crazy, irrational cravings.

Disagree! True hunger is actually a good thing — it tells you that your body needs sustenance. If you eat a satisfying meal (eg lunch) that includes lean protein, you should not be physically hungry for around 5 hours.  What we think of as mid-morning or mid-afternoon “hunger” is often anxiety, boredom, or another emotion.  Rather than eating, do something to distract yourself, such as taking a short walk. The brain can’t hold on to cravings for very long.

If it’s late afternoon, and you know you won’t be having dinner for a few hours and are starting to feel real hunger, try eating a handful of nuts (slowly) to help avoid temptation. But don’t beat yourself up if you can’t resist an occasional peanut butter cup.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN, dear readers!

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