12 June 2003
Some Foods May Be Physically Addictive
Anyone who's tried to give up coffee knows that caffeine is physically addictive, and many suspect the same about chocolate, but a new book by nutrition researcher Neal Barnard, M.D., argues that other foods are just as habituating. Cheese, meats, and sugar release opiate-like substances that seduce us into eating them again and again. The book, Breaking the Food Seduction (St. Martin's Press), also reveals how industry, aided by government, exploits these natural cravings, pushing us to eat more and more unhealthy foods.
"It's not gluttony, weak will, or an oral personality that keep some of us tied to certain foods," explains Dr. Barnard. "There's a biochemical reason many of us feel we can't live without our daily meat, cheese, or sugar fix. Cheese, for example, contains high levels of casein, a protein that breaks apart during digestion to produce morphine-like opiate compounds, called casomorphins. These opiates are believed to be responsible for the mother-infant bond that occurs during nursing.
It's no surprise many of us feel bonded to the refrigerator."
Rather than look to medications for a solution, Dr. Barnard has developed a three-week dietary and lifestyle program to help people get unhooked. "By adjusting overall diet and exercise patterns to balance our blood sugar and our appetite-controlling hormones, we can become more resistant to cravings and less likely to binge," he explains.