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Food companies work hard to keep you addicted to junk food
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Food companies work hard to keep you addicted to junk food

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Everyone knows what it’s like to feel hungry, but when you start rummaging through the fridge, do you know what you’re actually looking for? What is hunger, really?

Most people would answer that hunger is your drive to eat until you’re full again. But, if hunger were simply a signal that your body needs fuel, would it matter what kind of food you decide to have? Would preferences and cravings even come into play?

What you want to eat changes day to day, meal by meal, snack by snack. What you craved yesterday might not sound good at all this morning. What’s going on there?

A new study found that hunger is actually made up of five separate and distinct appetites – protein, carbs, fats, sodium and calcium – which work together to ensure we get the nutrients we need for the day. It’s a way your body kept tabs on nutrient intake before food tracker apps were a thing.

The researchers showed that vastly diverse species, like cockroaches, spiders, dogs, and primates, when given the choice to eat a wide variety of foods, would end up right where their nutrient intakes should be for their size and nutritional requirements. Obviously, a cockroach does not know its nutritional requirements and what foods will meet them, but it reaches those targets regardless.

Protein determined food consumption. 

PROTEIN DETERMINED FOOD CONSUMPTION.

The researchers found that getting adequate protein was the main driver of eating behavior in humans. To control what the study groups ate, participants were sent to a ski chalet in the Swiss Alps that was far removed from grocers and restaurants. Participants were split into one group that ate from a high protein buffet, and the other group ate from a low protein buffet.

Both groups maintained the same protein intake, even though the group eating from the low protein buffet had to eat more food to get there. Neither group knew how much protein was in any of the food, let alone their body’s ideal protein intake. Still, their protein intake decided how much total food they consumed. 

Read this to learn how to calculate how much protein you need, plus protein sources to help you reach your daily requirement. 

Cheap food producers use the five appetites to hook you.

Why do a lot of humans tend to eat more than we need, or end up with nutritional deficiencies? Industrialization of our food supply and the engineering of food products blur our hunger and satiety signals. We do pretty well when eating real food, but not when eating foods that short circuit the wiring between our taste buds and brain. 

Packaged food manufacturers use these appetites to create the illusion that the food you are eating is satisfying your nutritional requirements. For example, added sugar tells your brain that you’ve found a source of quick carbs for energy – you’re wired to remember that food and seek it out later. In pre-industrialized times, sodium wasn’t as plentiful in foods that you had to go find or produce yourself, so you have an innate drive to seek out salty foods. Manufacturers who seek to create cheap, craveworthy food will capitalize on that drive.

Producers even use precise mathematical formulas to land on a “bliss point,” which is the exact balance of ingredients like salt, sugar, and fat that act on the reward centers of your brain and make food addictive. The trick is, these snacks are purposefully not filling, so your body will not stop you like it would if you ate a satisfying, nutrient-dense meal of whole foods. You can eat well beyond a serving size of most snacks without feeling even a hint of fullness.

Does that tactic work? If a food that you crave doesn’t fill you up, you’ll eat a lot of it. According to the most recent National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney diseases 1 in 3 adults are overweight, and you have to wonder whether it would be that way if people ate only from the farmer’s market.

The best thing to do to self-regulate your hunger is to eat from whole food sources and ensure you’re meeting your protein needs.

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