Tag Archives: Nutrition

Is Farmed Fish Beneficial or Harmful to Health?

December 7th, 2018
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Is Farmed Fish Beneficial or Harmful to Health?

The debate of farm-raised fish vs. wild-caught fish has persisted since the dawn of the aquaculture industry. Many fish farms have appeared in recent years to meet the world’s increasing demand for fish, but there are distinct differences in the nutritional value of fresh-caught fish and farm-raised fish.

There are valid arguments on both sides of this debate. On one side, farmed fish helps meet the demand for fish at a lower cost than fresh-caught fish, while also preventing the destruction caused by commercial fishing. Wild-caught fish typically offer better nutritional value, but commercial fishing has already damaged the world’s ocean ecosystems to staggering levels.

Benefits of Farm-Raised Fish

Farmed fish generally subsist on a cheap diet of corn and soy. While this offers little in nutritional value, it does help keep prices manageable. Unfortunately, the drawbacks of farmed fish far outweigh the perceived benefits.

Potential Drawbacks of Farmed Fish

Supporters of fish farming primarily claim that fish farms reduce the need for commercial fishing operations that damage different fishes’ natural habitats and wild fish populations. However, fish farms have the potential to cause serious ecological damage. Fish kept in farms typically spend their lives in very tightly packed pens, making it easy for sickness, diseases, and parasites to spread in farm populations.

Sickness and parasites from farmed fish can also affect the surrounding wild fish populations. For example, a sea lice infestation recently wiped out roughly 80% of the pink salmon population off the coast of Western Canada*. This contamination could easily affect local wild fish populations which will then harm the predatory species that depend on those fish as food sources, such as birds, bears, and killer whales.

Some predatory farmed fish like salmon also require enormous amounts of feeder fish like mackerel and anchovies. For example, it can take as much as two pounds of feeder fish for every pound of farm-raised salmon. This puts incredible strain on the anchovy and other feeder fish populations, which have faced overfishing nearly to the brink of extinction. Ultimately, fish farming is one of the least sustainable forms of fishing and poses significant risks to the environment and consumer health.

Imported Fish Risks

Another serious risk of eating farmed fish arises with foreign-sourced fish. For example, there are no health and safety inspectors overseeing the fishing industry in China, and some Chinese fish farm workers have reported appalling conditions at many Chinese fish farms**. Some workers have reported sewage in fish pens, rampant disease, filthy working conditions, and dyes used to conceal contaminated fish.

Why Go for Fresh-Caught?

Unless you buy fish directly from a fish farm and have confidence they use safe and healthy practices, there is simply no way to tell where the farmed fish in your grocery store came from. Many farmed fish can be some of the most toxic food in the average store, depending on its source. It’s ultimately better to choose wild-caught fish whenever possible. It may be more expensive, but it is healthier than farmed fish and discourages the fish farming industry from persisting.

Better, Natural Nutrition

Wild-caught fish survive on a natural diet, which can include smaller prey fish, ocean-based plants, algae, and other natural foods. This leads to healthier development, and fish in the wild may roam and move as they please rather than contending with the hyper-confinement of a pen at a fish farm. Penned fish generally experience severe stress during their entire lives, increasing the chances of infections and other health issues and diminishing their nutritional value.

Devastating Struggling Ecosystems

Fish is a highly sought-after food due to its perceived nutritional value, but wild-caught fish offer significant nutritional benefits over farmed fish. For example, one of the most commonly farmed fishes in the world is tilapia, one of the most farmed fish in the world. Many people avoid tilapia due to its generally unsavory reputation and potential health risks, but choosing wild-caught salmon puts strain on the wild salmon population.

Tilapia nutrition is a far cry from the dietary value of wild-caught salmon, and wild-caught salmon is harder to procure. Naturally, the salmon will cost much more. This creates incentive for commercial fishing operations to capitalize on fish in high demand, but they in turn devastate existing wild fish populations. This approach may not be as harmful as fish farming, but it isn’t sustainable either.

Finding Out Which Fish Is Right For You

If your main concern is nutritional value then avoiding farmed fish is your best option. This may be more expensive, but take the time to shop around your area to see the types of fresh fish available. This will be more difficult in some areas than others due to distance from the ocean and shipping issues.

Some fish provide more health benefits than others, and some people may benefit from different types of fish. For example, some wild fish have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids while others have higher protein content.

Schedule Your Nutritional Assessment Today

If you are unsure about your fish options, the Dietary Rehab team can help. The best way to approach nutrition is with an individualized breakdown of your unique nutritional needs. Preexisting medical conditions, allergies, and food sensitivities are important considerations when developing a diet plan.

A nutritional assessment can help you with your dietary and weight loss goals. If you’re looking for ways to improve your overall health or boost your immune system, an assessment can help with this, too. Visit Dietary Rehab online and learn more about our dietary counseling services and how they can help you.

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Is the Whole 30 Diet Healthy for the Long Term?

November 30th, 2018
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Is the Whole 30 Diet Healthy for the Long Term

One of the most popular new diets is the “Whole 30” diet, a program that entails extensive dietary restrictions with the promise of “resetting” the body’s many systems. Although many people have reported positive results and the program developer has boasted about over 100,000 satisfied customers since 2009, many dietary researchers and other experts claim the diet could be dangerous or ineffective for many people.

If you’re curious about trying the Whole 30 diet it’s vital to prepare for the restrictions you’ll face. Unlike other diets, the Whole 30 diet functions on a 30-day framework. Following such a restrictive diet beyond the intended 30 days may have negative results.

How the Whole 30 Diet Plan Works

The developers of the program claim that many foods, even seemingly healthy foods, can have adverse effects on various parts of the body that many people may not even realize, which is the basic reasoning behind the Whole 30 diet. The Whole 30 diet, then, aims to remove these potentially harmful foods from the body so the body can repair whatever damage has occurred and the person can make more informed choices about his or her nutrition and diet.

After the 30 days of the dieting period are over, a person on the Whole 30 diet should start gradually reintroducing previously restricted foods by food group and see if any of their health issues return. For example, a person who experiences sleep problems and digestive trouble may notice these symptoms fade during the Whole 30 diet. After reintroducing milk into his or her diet, the person notices those symptoms return. This could be a sign that he or she may have a mild lactose sensitivity that previously went unnoticed.

Restrictions

One of the biggest issues with the Whole 30 diet, for many people, is how restrictive it is. This 30-day diet plan requires a complete refrain from several types of foods, including:

  • Grains. While on the Whole 30 diet you won’t be able to eat bread, cereal, rice, noodles, oats, or even quinoa.
  • Dairy. You can eat no dairy or drink any milk products during the Whole 30 diet. This includes yogurt, ice cream, cheese, and cream.
  • Legumes. Soybeans, peanuts, peanut butter, beans, lentils, and all other legumes are another Whole 30 restriction.
  • Sugar. You must avoid all refined and unrefined sugars during the Whole 30 diet, and this includes artificial sweeteners like stevia and Splenda. You must also avoid maple syrup, agave syrup, honey, coconut sugar, and all other “alternative” sweeteners.
  • Alcohol. Alcoholic beverages are high in calories and some may also have high sugar content. Removing alcohol from your diet for 30 days can also help identify issues that alcohol may be causing in other aspects of life.

Dieting Beyond 30 Days

The Whole 30 diet recommends avoiding checking weight and counting calories during the 30 days. The developers of the program instead recommend focusing on making healthier dietary choices and paying close attention to the effects of reintroducing different foods after the 30 days are over.

Once the 30 days are over, a person on the Whole 30 may notice that certain foods cause problems that bothered them before starting the diet. Now he or she knows to avoid or limit those foods in the future while enjoying other previously restricted foods.

Potential Problems With the Whole 30 Diet

One of the major criticisms of the Whole 30 diet is that it deprives a person of some very important nutrients from the restricted food groups. Legumes are a fantastic source of plant-based protein. Grains provide fiber for easier digestion, and dairy is a very important source of vitamin D and calcium. Some health researchers suggest that the harm of 30 days of deprivation of these vital nutrients eclipses the potential good the diet may do.

Some dietitians also criticize the diet for promoting meat consumption, which many health experts agree is a generally bad decision, and most people should limit meat consumption. The diet also encourages you to eat healthy diet foods including seafood, vegetables, some fruits, nuts, seeds, and foods with minimal ingredients.

Working a Whole 30 Regimen Into Your Regular Diet

The Whole 30 diet may not be ideal for a long-term meal plan, but as a 30-day diet meal plan it may have positive results for some people. Before starting any diet it’s important to consult a physician about potential health risks, preexisting conditions, food sensitivities or any other issues that may complicate the diet. It’s also a good idea to develop a healthy diet plan that incorporates a wide range of the available foods you can eat.

Whole 30 Recipes for You to Try

The Whole 30 diet plan may be restrictive, but it could also provide the opportunity to try new foods or new twists on old favorites. Results can vary, and 30 days is a relatively short time to give a new diet a try, so with some proper planning and a few new recipes to try, the Whole 30 diet may offer relief from symptoms that have bothered you for a while.

The Whole 30 diet may offer some quick weight loss and help you identify problems in your current diet, but it’s important to plan and execute any new diet safely. At Dietary Rehab, we know how challenging it can be to stick to a new diet, especially one that is as restrictive as the Whole 30 diet.

Dietary Rehab features several fantastic and healthy recipes you can try online. Check out some of these ideas and think about ways to build your own 30 day diet plan with the Whole 30 system.

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Health Benefits of Blueberries and Raw Blueberry Juice

July 6th, 2018
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Health Benefits of Blueberries and Raw Blueberry Juice
Looking at the health benefits, blueberries seem to be the perfect food. Considered a superfood because they’re rich in antioxidants, high in fiber, vitamin C and vitamin K, as well as Manganese, these little darlings pack quite a nutritional punch! And the health benefits are equally as awesome.

Antioxidant Rich

Blueberries, whether fresh, frozen, dried or as juice, have as many antioxidants as five servings of other fruits and vegetables! We all know that antioxidants neutralize free radicals and the damage they cause to our bodies. Eating blueberries every day can help stop cellular structure damage, DNA damage, early aging, and various types of cancer. The antioxidants in blueberries also have anti-inflammatory properties. Because of the high antioxidant content, blueberries can help fight chronic inflammatory diseases including arthritis, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s, and even cancer.

Neuro-Protective Agent

Adding blueberries to your diet protects your brain from degeneration and neurotoxicity as well as oxidative stress, by slowing down the damage to the brain cells caused by aging.  This decreases your risk of dementia, Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s. Putting blueberries in the daily diet, helps build dopamine, an essential neurotransmitter, in your body. Dopamine enables your body to perform smooth, controlled movements as well as maintaining an efficient memory, good attention span and problem-solving functions.

Cancer Prevention

Clinical studies have shown that gallic acid rich foods like blueberries can kill cancer without harming healthy cells, unlike chemotherapy or radiation therapies. And because they also contain folate, which assists in DNA repair and synthesis, blueberries prevent cancer cells from forming and mutating DNA strands. Some newer studies even show that the antioxidants in blueberries even promote the death of cancer cells.

Eye and Skin Health

Those antioxidants are also working on your eyes, preventing the age related problems like macular degeneration, cataracts and myopia.

Because of special antioxidant compounds called carotenoids, flavonoids and other compounds, even things like hyperopia and retinal infections and sun damage can be prevented or reduced.

Your skin’s collagen relies on vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant, in order to prevent damage caused by sun, pollution and smoke. Vitamin C also supports collagen’s ability to smooth out wrinkles and improve skin texture.

Digestive Aid

Fiber rich blueberries have both soluble and insoluble fiber which can help maintain a healthy digestive track, relieving both diarrhea and constipation. Wild blueberries have pre-biotic potential which promotes probiotic bacteria in the colon, aiding digestive health. There is a good chance they can help cure Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Crohn’s Disease. Blueberries can also alleviate symptoms such as bleeding and pain caused by ulcerative colitis. One of the antioxidant compounds, pterostilbene, inhibits genes that cause inflammation, thought to be a risk factor for colon cancer.

Heart Health

Higher daily intake of blueberries has been shown to reduce the risk of developing hypertension by up to 8%. Research shows that, by eating blueberries and drinking raw blueberry juice, total and low density LDL cholesterol can also be reduced by up to 12% and 15% respectively and could help prevent heart disease. The blueberry, with its vitamin C and B6 as well as fiber, potassium, folate, and phytonutrient content, vigorously supports heart health. There is also a study, published in the journal, Circulation, stating that blueberries, eaten together with strawberries, may reduce your risk of heart disease by up to 33%.

Healthy Weight Loss

Since blueberries are high in dietary fiber, low in calories and low on the glycemic index, these blue marvels aid in weight loss. Dietary fiber is a bulking agent in the digestive track and gives that full feeling for longer, thereby reducing overall caloric intake. Snacking on blueberries, with their high fiber content will give you that full feeling and reduce your appetite. They also have the ability to block enzymes in your intestines that block carbohydrate absorption. Blueberry flavonoids, once absorbed, aid the body’s weight management by slowing the rate in which fat cells develop and multiply a well as decreasing the amount of fat that is stored in each cell.

Other Health Benefits

Blueberries can also treat urinary tract infections. They have a compound of large polymer-like molecules which inhibit the growth of E. coli bacteria. This compound is only found in cranberries and blueberries. Your immune system can also be boosted with these blue marvels because of the antioxidants in them. The flavonoid rich wild blueberry is a mood enhancer and can act as an effective antidepressant.  Because of the low glycemic index of blueberries, they can be helpful with Type 2 Diabetes. They have a positive impact on sugar regulation and can also help people with Metabolic Syndrome and insulin resistance, including lowering blood pressure. Higher intake of blueberries has been shown to decrease the development of Type 2 Diabetes in people who have Metabolic Syndrome by up to 23%.

Eating Healthy

Living longer, healthier and looking younger are the ideals we all strive for. Blueberries and raw blueberry juice is definitely a good addition to the healthy lifestyle we all want and want to keep. The best blueberries are organic and fresh. However, you can freeze them, dry them, juice them, save them, bake with them, do all kinds of things with them. They are a very versatile and forgiving fruit, in that they do not lose any nutritional value freezing or drying them. So, eat a handful a day and don’t forget to follow our blog to eat healthy, live healthy (and longer) and be happy.

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Celiac Disease, Food Additives and the Benefits of a Gluten-Free Diet

November 13th, 2017
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Celiac Disease Food Additives and Benefits of Gluten-Free Diet - Dietary Rehab

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immune system mistakenly reacts to gluten. Glutens are proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale.

Put simply, celiac sufferers cannot properly digest gluten. Instead, the body starts to destroy part of the small intestine, making it difficult to absorb vital nutrients. If you or a loved one has celiac disease, or you simply want to be your healthiest self, consider a gluten-free diet.

About Celiac Disease and Gluten

Celiac disease affects everyone differently, and can be difficult to diagnose. There are more than 200 known symptoms of this disease, including:

  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Malnutrition
  • Depression
  • Vomiting
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Abdominal bloating and pain

Symptoms can affect the entire body, and can appear in children and adults. Celiac disease is hereditary, and affects as many as 3 million Americans. About 97 percent of celiac disease cases go undiagnosed.

The only treatment for celiac disease is to follow a gluten-free diet. Gluten acts as “glue” that holds foods together, and exists in many products. It’s what gives bread a chewy and elastic texture, and is an important ingredient in making baked goods.

Beer, cereal, bread, pasta and many other foods contain gluten. Gluten is a completely indigestible protein that can slip through the lining of the intestines and cause inflammation in people with celiac disease.

Normally, the small intestine has villi that line the inside to help the body absorb nutrients. If one has celiac disease, ingesting gluten irritates this lining and causes the immune system to attack the villi.

Over time, this can lead to damage or destruction of the villi, and the inability to absorb important nutrients. This can cause malnutrition and a variety of related health problems. Adhering to a gluten-free diet can stop the symptoms of celiac disease, and allow the body to function normally.

Food Additives as Hidden Sources of Gluten

The number of hidden sources of gluten that exist in everyday products may surprise you. Identifying the more latent sources of glutinous material found in processed foods can be challenging, especially early on during your diet change.

Many people overlook one very significant source of gluten: food additives. Food additives for protein, texture, flavor or color may very well contain a source of gluten that causes a flare-up.

Companies may add ingredients to products to improve some element of it, such as the look or taste. Unfortunately, these additives can render the product inedible to people with celiac disease or gluten intolerances.

Always check labels for additives before consuming a product. Take a smartphone with you while you shop, and look up additives you aren’t familiar with. When in doubt, call the company to see if the product is gluten-free.

Percentage of Americans on Gluten-Free Diet Without Celiac Disease Chart - Dietary Rehab

Celiac Disease Foods to Avoid

If you’re new to a gluten allergy or celiac disease, you’re probably wondering what foods you can and cannot eat on your new gluten-free diet. Luckily, scientists have increased their understanding of gluten intolerances in the past few years, leading to a trend of gluten-free food production. Nowadays, it’s relatively easy to find gluten-free alternatives to your favorite dishes.

The list of foods to avoid is long, but common foods that contain gluten include:

  • Barley
  • Beer
  • Bleached bread, cake, graham or granary flour
  • Couscous
  • Malt
  • Pasta
  • Rye
  • Soy and teriyaki sauce
  • Wheat
  • Edible starch
  • Filler

Gluten-containing additives include:

  • Wheat protein
  • Textured vegetable protein
  • Flour
  • Food starch
  • Dextrin
  • Caramel color
  • Anything with the word “wheat”

Avoid vague descriptions such as “artificial flavoring,” “spices” or “natural flavor.” It’s unclear where these ingredients came from, and they could have a source that contains gluten.

The list of foods and additives that may contain gluten is even longer: Dried fruit, flavored coffee, ice cream, candy and many other food items can potentially contain gluten. Get in the habit of reading ingredients labels carefully if you’re adhering to a strict no-gluten diet.

What You Can Eat

Going gluten-free isn’t just about what you can’t eat. People with celiac disease can still eat some grains that are naturally gluten-free, including brown rice, wild rice, and quinoa.

Other naturally gluten-free foods include:

  • Unprocessed beans and nuts
  • Fresh eggs
  • Fresh meat and poultry
  • Fresh fish
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Most dairy products

Safe grains and starches include (as long as they aren’t processed with additives that contain gluten):

  • Buckwheat
  • Flax
  • Corn
  • Cornmeal
  • Sorghum

The Benefits of a Gluten-Free Diet

Receiving a celiac disease diagnosis isn’t the only reason to consider going gluten-free. There are many other medical conditions that eating gluten can exacerbate. For example, eating gluten-free can ease the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Removing gluten from your diet can solve many mysterious issues you have with digestion, energy levels and other issues. You may have a non-celiac gluten intolerance, or gluten sensitivity if you can’t seem to figure out what’s wrong.

Going gluten-free can result in benefits such as:

  • Better digestive health
  • Increased energy
  • Improved cholesterol
  • Weight loss from cutting out processed and unhealthy foods
  • Improved cardiovascular health
  • Less bloating and gas
  • Reduced risk of diabetes
  • Improved conditions such as IBS and arthritis

Note that if you don’t need a gluten-free diet for medical reasons, eliminating gluten completely may actually do more harm than good. You could miss out on a healthy, well-balanced diet and beneficial whole grains if you go gluten-free by choice.

Work with a dietician for a meal plan that’s suited to your individual needs, whether or not you have celiac disease. Visit your doctor for more information about celiac disease and gluten-free diets.

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The Nuts and Bolts of Food Addiction

July 11th, 2012
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Kid with ChocolateIn last month’s article, Our Modern Food Addiction, I began laying the groundwork for a different way of looking at our modern obesity and dietary-induced chronic disease epidemic. In that article, I asked you to begin to open your mind and modify the way you look at food on the most basic level. Instead of food being a unit of energy, food should be seen as the powerful pharmaceutical agent that it is, which controls a very complex hormonal and biochemical environment. It is the corruption of this environment that what leads to poor health and weight gain. At the heart of the myriad of biochemical nutritional problems is one substance… sugar. Sugar not only contributes to terrible hormonal and biochemical environments in its own right, but actually is the engine which drives the poor health train due to one nasty biological effect which it has on our brain… it is a very addictive substance. As you will see, addiction causes a chain reaction of bad things to happen to your health, your weight, and your psychological relationship with food. We will begin exploring this phenomenon in this article by laying the physiological groundwork. We will take a look at the biology behind addiction, why a particular substance is addictive, and what happens when that substance is introduced into our systems.

How We Got Here

Addictive substances have been around as long ashumanity has walked the earth. Anthropology tells us that our ancestors frequently used (and obviously enjoyed) a wide variety of addictive stimulants, depressants and other agents. We find in the bones of these primitive peoples traces of cannibis, caffeine, nicotine, mescaline, opium, and many other substances. The mummies of Egypt have been found with traces of cocaine, nicotine, and caffeine in their tissues. Utzi the iceman, who was found in the early 90’s completely preserved in glacial ice in the Swiss Alps and is the oldest intact mummy that we know of on earth contained traces of caffeine. The want of many of these addictive substances have driven many of our pursuits of exploration, conquest, and destruction of indigenous societies in the years of world-wide exploration and conquest. Cortez may have crossed the see in search of El Dorado, but he returned to Europe with nicotine, caffeine, and chocolate (theobromine) to start the Europeans buzzing (literally). And we all know of the terrible tragedies of slavery and sufferings of Africans for the want of rum during the triangle trade period. Truly, addictive substances have played a massive role in the history of our species.

But at what point does a substance go from and “addictive” substance that is consumed to an addiction in an individual? After all, there are many individuals who eat, drink, and inhale substances and never become addicted to them. We all know of the occasional drinker, the occasional smoker. When is the point reached where a person has to have a substance?

What makes a substance addictive?

There are literally billions of unique substances on this earth, and many of them we interact with in our environment on a daily basis. Air, water, various proteins, minerals, countless plant and animal proteins… It is mind-boggling how many things we come in contact with each day. So why do some of these substances make our bodies desire more and more of them, while the other we interact with without so much as a thought?

As it turns out, the properties of a substance that makes it addictive all boil down to the interaction of the substance with very particular portions of the brain. It is the neurotransmitter, hormonal and chemical responses by the brain to the substance which make a substance either innocuous or addictive. All addictive substances share many similarities with how they interact with the brain and the conditions that they produce in the brain. The following section is going to be a little technical and “science-ey”, so I apologize in advance for any headaches caused. I do promise to keep the technical jargon down to an absolute minimum, but I feel that it is important to explain the science behind addiction in some detail to give you a clearer picture of what is really going on in your body.

Brain Physiology:The Mesolimbic System

The part of the brain which is most involved in an addictive response to a substance is named the mesolimbic system. This “system” is actually more a collection of several distinct neural structures located in the cortex region of the brain. The primary constituent structures of the limbic system are the amygdala, hippocampus, septal nuclei, and anterior nucleate gyrus, and maybe the most important and well-known brain structure in regards to addiction is the nucleus accumbens. My intention certainly is not to overwhelm you with scientific terms or technical jargon. The real message is that the brain is incredibly complex, and that these structures have many diverse functions to carry out for the body. The hippocampus, for example, is responsible for the development of long-term memories. The piriform cortex has a significant role in the physiological process of smelling. The functions don’t necessarily relate to one another. But it is the reward and pleasure response functions of this system that we are interested in for our purposes. For simplicity’s sake, I will limit our discussion to the three portions of the mesolimbic system which are most prominently involved in addiction… the nucleus accumbens and the amygdala. I don’t want you to misunderstand, the reward center of the brain certainly is not the only player in the game when we talk about the physiology of addiction. Other systems, hormones, and neurotransmitters influence the reward pathway as well. But for our purposes an examination of the amygdala and nucleus accumbens show us the “beating heart” of the addiction response.

The Amygdala

Amygdala

The amygdala are two small, nodule-like structures situated deep in the middle of the brain. They are highly connected to several important parts of the brain such as the hypothalmus, trigeminal nerve the ventral tegmental area (VTA). It has a few rather diverse jobs in the grand scheme of things for the body, but the function that we are most concerned about with our subject is its role in positive learning. It forms memories of positive events (and substances) that you come into contact with and remembers that substance is a “positive” thing for some future time. This makes the amygdala very important in the process because it is essentially where the memory of the “good feeling” starts and ends. This has been shown conclusively in animal studies. When mice have their amygdala damaged, they no longer pursue the positive behaviors that other mice do.

Nucleus Accumbens

The nucleus accumbens is the structure of the brain most famous for being labeled the “pleasure center”. When we have a pleasurable experience in life, whatever it may be, chances are the nucleus accumbens is in a very active state. This little structure also connects to several other structures in the brain, including the amygdala and VTA. The actual biology is way beyond the scope of this article, but a simple explanation is that when you have a pleasurable experience, several other structures in the stimulate a release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the nucleus acumbens. This dopamine then interacts with the nucleus accumbens, activating it and producing the “good feeling” that we experience.

brain

When it is functioning like it was designed to, it is a fascinating process. Nature has designed this chemical reaction specifically to put us in favorable positions as frequently as possible. This is because the things we experience in nature which cause this effect on our brain are generally good for us in a biological sense. Our bodies and the natural environment thus perform a beautifully precise dance with the substances it provides.

In order for this process to happen a substance is produced by the plant to heighten this pleasure response in our brain. As time passed through history, the plants who developed greater attractive substances ( sweeter fruit, caffeine, nicotine) thrived and dominated. Over the years, nature produced some very potent substances through this process of natural selection which exert a very high dopamine response in the nucleus accumbens. The end result? Addictive substances were born.

So the question is, if addiction is a natural process, then where did biology go wrong? Well, biology didn’t go wrong….mankind intervened in nature and did what we do time and time again…made a giant mess.

The truth is, these natural compounds in their native state aren’t particularly harmful or addictive. For instance, when taken in its natural form the coca leaf isn’t a terribly bad thing and only modestly addictive. However when man isolated, condensed, and purified the addictive substance contained in the coca leaf (cocaine), a highly addictive and terrible substance was born which enslaves many people to its effects. The same can be said for poppy seeds (opium, heroin), and many other drugs of addiction.

If you take an MRI of the brain of a heroine addict, a crack addict, and an alcoholic while they are in the midst of a binge of their substance of choice, the brain activity is nearly identical. They all have extremely active nucleus accumbens with surging dopamine levels in that part of their brain. So, how does this tie in to our dietary woes?

Brain on Drugs Brain Scans of Various Addicts vs. Normal Brains. Notice the similar level of activity (yellow vs. red).

It just so happens that we use the same system of condensing and purifying for sugar. It has been proven in a multitude of studies that sugar effects the brain in an identical manner as the common drugs of addiction. When ingested, sugars stimulate a rapid and very high level of dopamine secretion in the nucleus accumbens. This is the exact condition which we believe triggers addiction in all its forms. So where is the real-world evidence?

Heavy sugar consumers, be it junk food junkies or high carbohydrate marathoners, display significant withdrawal symptoms when the sugar content of their diet is drastically reduced or eliminated. Heaches, diarrhea, nausea, fatigue, low grade fever, and shivering are the most common symptoms of sugar withdrawal. You have probably experienced these symptoms yourself if you have tried to crash diet, or simply suddenly went from being a couch potato to a strict diet overnight. These symptoms are hallmarks of addictive drug withdrawal.

Cocoa Puffs Proof of Sugar’s Addictive Properties. This Bird Has Been Whacked Out of His Mind on Sugar Since I was a Child

Of course, the one big difference between sugar and other addictive substances (alcohol excepted) is that sugar just happens to also contain calories. When you are addicted to sugar and the good feeling of contentment that it brings to you, you are also packing in tremendous amounts of caloric energy which must be accounted for. Thanks to sugar’s unique metabolic properties, these calories are particularly harmful and quite useless to a healthy human body. We will discuss sugar’s specific metabolic problems in next month’s installment, but for now just know that sugar calories are bad for you… with a capital B.

It is my belief that addiction to sugar in all of its permutations ( table sugar, high fructose corn syrup, etc.) is the beating heart of our obesity epidemic. I contend that only by recognizing sugar as an addictive substance instead of just a source of calories and then treating it as such in our diets will we begin to understand its effects on our physiology, psychology and corpulence.

There is one group in our society who has been clued in to the sugar and addiction relationship for years. Food manufacturers, over the past 30 years, have added high fructose corn syrup to everything they produce. You may not have even realized this unless you consciously read ingredients in your everyday food items. Do you think this is an accident? Of course it is not. They are well aware they are lacing their products with an addictive substance to ensure a heightened attraction to their products. Can you think of another reason they would put corn syrup in bread? Pretzels? Saltine crackers? Lunch meats? All of these products existed for an eternity without added sugars. Do you feel duped yet?

General Mills Logo These Guys Have Known About This Science for Decades

The one point that I hope that you take home from this article is to begin viewing the food you eat not as energy, but as biologically active substances. You could even call them drugs, and in the final analysis that may be the most descriptive word for our food. They cause particular and measurable biological and biochemical responses to their ingestion. Many components of food target specific receptors in the body ( just like contemporary pharmaceuticals). Hippocrates once wrote, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” I think he had it figured out 2000 years ago. The point I am trying to make is, don’t underestimate your food. To think of it as mere energy is to do your health and body composition a great disservice.

Where Do We Go From Here?

So sugar is an addictive substance, and you are an addict. So, where do we go from here? We will begin addressing how to deal with your dependence on sugar in the next installment, but your homework is two-fold:

  • Read the labels of the food in your kitchen this week to see how many products you have been eating have hidden additive sugars
  • At each meal, instead of thinking “how many calories is this?” think “how is this going to interact with my body?”

Until next time!

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