(MCT) Is sugar addictive? I wondered as i polished off my pumpkin pie … with an added extra bit of whipped cream.
According to a recent article in Food and Nutrition, a publication of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, yummy food stimulates the same pleasure centers in the brain that are stimulated by addictive drugs like cocaine. And just like drug abusers, we could become so "hooked" on tasty food that we seek after it even when we know the consequences might be painful. Gulp.
Granted, most of the research on this topic has been conducted on animals, not humans. Researchers at Princeton University for example, found that rats prefer to drink sugar water instead of plain water. And when they no longer have access to the sweet stuff, they go through withdrawal symptoms.
Other rats studied at Scripps Research Institute ran away from their chow bowl when they heard a signal that warned them of an impending electrical shock. But the story changed when these rats were fed chocolate, cheesecake, and sausage. When they heard the signal, they kept eating … even when they knew pain was on the way.
Of course humans are not rats (most of the time), we are reminded by other experts. And scientists have never observed true withdrawal symptoms by depriving humans of flavorful foods.
So the jury is still out. But if food addiction really does exist, sugar may not be the lone culprit. It's probably a combination of sugar, fat, and salt that triggers addictive-type behavior in humans, say scientists. Christmas toffee, anyone?
And speaking of salt (or sodium), we know that excess can squeeze up blood pressure, disable kidney function, and contribute to osteoporosis (porous bones). And we know it's a challenge to make food taste good without it. Here are some spicy ideas from a recent article in Today's Dietitian to add flavor to foods:
—3 ingredients — citrus, vinegar, and spices — add flavor to dishes without salt, says culinary nutritionist Robin Plotkin. Combinations of acids (such as vinegar, lemon or lime juice) and spices "awakens your palate to taste the flavors of food," says registered dietitian and chef Amanda Gilley. Think about basil, oregano, parsley, garlic and red wine vinegar on Italian food, for example. Deliziosa!
—Which seasonings to use? "Spices with similar colors mix well together — reds with reds, yellows with yellows," says Gilley. Cinnamon and nutmeg. Garlic with lemon.
—Change some ingredients. Use tomato paste instead of tomato sauce for instance. One-fourth cup of tomato paste contains about 40 milligrams of sodium; tomato sauce about 410.
—Cook for flavor. Roasting cut-up vegetables such as onions, red peppers, or Brussels sprouts in the oven (about 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until browned) causes their natural sugars to caramelize and creates a great taste. Flavors are diluted when food is steamed or boiled, says Plotkin.
So … if pumpkin pie has made my life unmanageable, I will seek healthier alternatives most of the time. Maybe I'll toss some chopped vegetables in olive oil, garlic, and balsamic vinegar and roast them in the oven. And life will be good.
Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula in Monterey, Calif. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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