Food in the end, in our tradition, is something holy. It’s not about nutrients and calories. It’s about sharing. It’s about honesty. It’s about identity. ~ Louise Fresco
You may already know that junk food is bad for your health, but you may not realize how bad it can be. A new study from the School of Medical Sciences at Australia’s University of New South Wales points to profound brain changes that junk food causes, making a junk food habit “more deadly than war, famine, and genocide”.
Say what? Yep, the food war is real, and though the UNSW study was conducted on rats, the brain changes observed matter to us humans. As mammals we share similar brain functioning in the orbitofrontal cortex, the part of our gray matter responsible for sensing and evaluating the pleasurable aspects of food.
Makers of junk food know it is highly addictive, but the UNSW study proves unequivocally that junk food alters behavior by causing near-permanent changes in the brain’s reward circuiting, an alteration that can trigger obesity.
The study abstract concluded:
“We observed that rats fed a cafeteria diet for 2 weeks showed impaired sensory-specific satiety following consumption of a high calorie solution. The deficit in expression of sensory-specific satiety was also present 1 week following the withdrawal of cafeteria foods. Thus, exposure to obesogenic diets may impact upon neurocircuitry involved in motivated control of behavior.”
While mammals developed a natural trigger over our evolutionary history which prevents us from over-eating, a phenomenon termed “sensory-specific satiety,” the consumption of junk food overrides this natural ‘kill’ switch that allows us to regulate the calories we consume.
Junk food consumption also causes mitochondrial dysfunction and tissue inflammation, which leads to a host of other diseases. Perhaps most troubling, though, is that these fake foods also mess with our internal motivation and reward system – which causes us to seek more nutrition-less junk. It’s like programming a time bomb and just waiting for it to blow.
Here is What Happened in the Study
In the UNSW study, rats were fed a standard junk food diet, complete with cookies, cakes, biscuits, and other junk foods for two weeks. Another group of rats were fed a ‘standard lab chow’ diet. They were then observed under Pavlovian conditions, when a sound cue informed the rats it was time for their next serving. You can guess what happened.
The ‘junk-food rats’ ate until they were glutinously full, obese, and ill, and the ‘healthy –diet rats’ stopped eating naturally – when they were full, and not over-stuffed.
What’s most interesting though is what happened to the ‘junk food rats’ once they were returned to a normal diet. They still had the tendency to overeat. Their brains were literally trained to eat too much, and held that habit even after environmental factors were changed.
Dr. Amy Reichelt, lead author of the UNSW study says:
“As the global obesity epidemic intensifies, advertisements may have a greater effect on people who are overweight and make snacks like chocolate bars harder to resist.”
Professor Margaret Morris, another UNSW team member added:
“It’s like you’ve just had ice cream for lunch, yet you still go and eat more when you hear the ice cream van come by.”
It is no wonder we are facing a global obesity epidemic. The United States is the epicenter of this troubling phenomenon, with 2 our of 3 Americans being clinically overweight or obese.
If we check the numbers against the Historical Atlas of the 20th Century, 203 million people died in the last century from war and oppression – including military and collateral civilian casualties from conflicts, genocide, politicide (i.e., the extermination of people who share a political belief), mass murders, and famines. This equates to an average of 2. million deaths a year – but the junk food habit kills more.
Even at the humble and likely modest estimation of the World Health Organization, at least 2.8 million people die annually from diseases linked to obesity including heart disease, diabetes, and brain stroke.
The junk food habit is killing 40% more people than wars, famine, dictators, murderers, and politicians put-together. Still think there’s no reason to fight for food freedom so that Americans and people everywhere can enjoy healthful, non-processed, nutrient-dense, organic food? The toxic food manufactured by corporations like McDonald’s, Kentucky Fired Chicken, Pepsi-Co, and Kraft is simply killing us -slowly.
Rodale points to 31 completely pointless foods you can find in your grocery store, but we all know that there are thousands of toxic, genetically modified, high-fructose-corn syrup-containing, MSG-laden foods. The problem is that some of these foods are not so easily recognized.
Concerningly, most Americans have been tricked through brain-piercing marketing ploys into thinking these junk foods are healthful. For example, companies use terms like “healthy” or “natural” as a means to convince us it’s a good buy – this is one of many food tricks.
You know the modern food system is broken too, when even vegetables are now cause for concern – the GMO, pesticide-laden kind, that is.
So what can one do to counter-balance this literal food war? Start by eating unprocessed foods in organic form. It is really that simple. That, and growing your own food is essential. Eating better is the best weapon against the corporate coup which has us eating toxic junk straight into the hospital.
Christina Sarich is a humanitarian and freelance writer helping you to Wake up Your Sleepy Little Head, and See the Big Picture. Her blog is Yoga for the New World. Her latest book is Pharma Sutra: Healing the Body And Mind Through the Art of Yoga.