This is why ultra-processed meals are addicting like cocaine

Distance oneself from the Coco Pops. Put the utensil down! Dispose of the bowl! Dr. Chris van Tulleken, an associate professor and author, presented a packet of the aforementioned cereal to the House of Lords Select Committee on Food, Diet, and Obesity last week. He argued that this cereal, along with others deemed “harmful” fast food, ought to have their advertising and health claims removed.

A number of experts, including himself, testified before Parliament regarding the perilous nature of junk food, specifically in relation to children. Dr. van Tulleken alleged that the mass-produced food industry operated similarly to the tobacco industry in that it sold potentially hazardous, addictive products.

Ultra-processed People: Why Do We Eat Stuff That Isn’t Food And Why Can’t We Stop?, which exposes the horrifying health effects of junk food, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, as well as the ruthless marketing strategies companies employ to sell their products to the unwary public.

He argues, “Tobacco use has been surpassed by poor diet as the leading cause of death worldwide, and a poor diet is an ultra-processed diet.”

It is difficult to disagree. Although processed foods do not possess the same addictive qualities as alcohol or narcotics, they are frequently manufactured with the intention of stimulating our reward pathways.

A form of psychological addiction, this can induce an insatiable desire to seek out the ‘reward’ in a manner analogous to how cocaine affects the brain. This is something I’ve witnessed numerous times.This is why ultra-processed meals are addicting like cocaine

The Lure of Processed Foods

Patients appear incapable of abstaining from processed foods and experience a greater sense of powerlessness when consuming them compared to other food categories. Extreme appetites may result from the brain’s repeated attempts to stimulate that reward pathway.

This is no mere coincidence; the meticulous engineering of these foods optimises their impact on our reward pathways, rendering them exceedingly enticing.

It is simple to advise others to simply develop self-control, but these small “reward” moments can be extremely enticing and difficult to resist for many.

Ultimately, the human mind predisposes itself to pursue rewards, and resisting this instinct, especially in our youth, proves quite difficult.

Manufacturers use our neurology to their advantage in order to promote their products.

I must admit that I am an absolute fan of Coco Pops. A box is consistently present in my cabinet. However, they are an uncommon treat, occurring no more than once per month.

I maintain a healthy diet and regular exercise regimen. I consume an abundance of fruits and vegetables, lean meats (only poultry and fish), and avoid processed foods. On occasion, I therefore believe it is acceptable to indulge. For heaven’s sake, I am not a monk; I require vices, and the occasional bowl of processed, sugary cereal could be much worse than this.

However, numerous individuals incorporate this type of highly processed food into their daily routines. For many, processed foods are an indispensable source of nutrition, frequently appearing multiple times in a single meal.

It causes adolescents, whose bodies are still undergoing growth and development, particular concern.

Health Risks of Ultra-Processed Foods

There is substantial evidence that ultra-processed foods are detrimental to both physical and mental health. For instance, a Harvard study from the previous year found that consuming ultra-processed foods (UPF) increased the risk of developing depression.

Individuals ranked in the upper fifth of UPF consumers, consuming nine or more servings daily, had a 50% greater likelihood of developing depression than those ranked in the lower fifth, consuming four or fewer servings daily, according to the study.

Additional research has established correlations between anxiety and cognitive deterioration. Then why? Scientists have made some progress towards resolving this complex question. Energy, carbohydrates, and saturated fat are abundant in UPFs, while protein and fiber are scarce.

Such a mixture is not present in unprocessed foods. This, in conjunction with additives that enhance flavour and texture and extend shelf life, such as stabilizers and emulsifiers, induces inflammation in the body, which is known to increase the risk of mental and physical health issues.

Numerous UPFs lack essential micronutrientsโ€”niacin, pyridoxine, copper, selenium, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, and zincโ€”substances that the human body requires in minute quantities for optimal functioning. Consequently, we are consuming food that lacks nutritional value.

As a libertarian, I believe that individuals ought to have the autonomy to determine their own dietary habits, among other matters.

However, many of these products are aggressively marketed to children and low-income families who are unaware of the weekly health risks associated with the items they purchase in their shopping cart.

Surely the bare minimum that companies selling these products should do is to warn consumers about the health risks involved.

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