A lot of people are under the impression that it’s completely natural to gain a lot of weight as they age. This is far from the truth because there wasn’t a significant weight problem in North America 40 years ago. How did we go from a healthier nation to a nation where 36% of adults over the age of 20 are obese?
Something changed in North America, but it wasn’t the people. Food changed, and processed foods are to blame. The food industry figured out that it could sell more food if it contained higher amounts of fat, sugar, and salt. In fact, these foods make it nearly impossible for some people to stop eating. One could argue that these processed foods fool your brain into thinking that you’re hungry, even when you aren’t.
When it comes to nutritious foods, you should feel a sense of satiety after finishing a meal or snack. Foods that are rich in fat, sugar, and salt have the opposite effect, though. These ingredients make you want more and don’t ease hunger. Have you ever noticed that you can eat an entire bag of chips and still feel hungry? Even if you are full, the need to eat is tremendous. How does this happen and can you do anything to escape this trap?
How Can Foods Fool Your Brain?
The brain sends signals to the rest of the body when you eat different foods, and it’s safe to say that your brain doesn’t like surprises. The body doesn’t use the same metabolic processes to digest protein as it does for carbohydrates, for example. When you taste food, the brain knows what’s coming and how to signal your body to process it.
Speaking solely from an evolutionary standpoint, the brain associates sweeter, fattier, and starchier foods with more calories. A sweeter fruit has more calories, just as a fattier piece of meat has more calories. This relationship between flavors and calories is how the brain knows that it’s satisfied. When you eat foods that contain thickeners, artificial sweeteners, or ingredients that mimic a sensorial experience, the brain gets thrown for a spin. It thinks that the food has more calories than it does, even when it doesn’t.
When you consume ultra-processed foods, the brain thinks that it gets more calories because of the taste. Then the brain makes the body eat more due to the lack of calories. Because the brain is designed to help you avoid a caloric low, it decides that the body needs more calories, just to avoid starvation.
The Foods That Fool Your Brain
There are foods that taste “out of sync” with their actual nutrition. These are what you call brain-fooling foods. Manufacturers manipulate food to change the relationship between how it tastes and how nutrient-dense it actually is. Consider the following foods that fool your brain.
These offer the sugary flavor without the calories, but they don’t satisfy your brain for long. For instance, a “sugar-free” or “zero-sugar” beverage may be non-caloric, but it still influences your metabolism. Not only do artificial sweeteners fool your brain, but they also wreck your gut health. The sweet taste impacts GLP-1 receptors on the tongue and trigger more insulin release, which is not ideal.
Thickeners & Emulsifiers
Both thickeners and emulsifiers are food additives that change the texture of foods. Although they may add creaminess, they also affect the flavor experience. These processed ingredients either extend the shelf life of ultra-processed foods, or they prevent the food from separating. The manipulation of food can affect the way your brain reacts after eating foods that contain thickeners or emulsifiers.
Over the last several decades, American agriculture directed its attention to increasing volume and appearance. Instead of a smaller apple or tomato, it will appear large, juicy, and perfect. The flavors of these foods, however, are often lacking, and they are blander than organic produce. The harsh agricultural methods mean that lab flavorings are necessary for a pleasurable eating experience. That means that a modified mango, for example, may not be interpreted correctly by the brain.
They resemble the taste and feel of traditional fats, and yet they are lower in calories. Natural oils and butters contain healthy fats that are higher in calories. Upon eating foods that contain fat replacers, the brain signals you to eat more because of the lower calorie count. They are in more foods than you realize, so start looking out for them. ‘
The bottom line is that you should avoid ultra-processed foods. They trick your brain into thinking you need to eat more than the body needs. Eating these foods, then, only increases the risk of obesity.