Experts reveal the one thing all addictive food has in common

Your junk food cravings decoded: Experts reveal popular treats such as chips and cake have the same carbohydrate to fat ratio as BREAST MILK

  • Experts have revealed the one thing that all addictive food has in common
  • Said food you crave most has 2:1 ratio of carbs to fat, just like human breast milk
  • Suggested the top ways to beat the cravings, including minimising stress 

From creamy milk chocolate to crunchy crisps, almost everyone has that one food craving that can tempt us away from even the most carefully-planned diet.

But now experts have revealed that these foods all share one main feature – they all contain a ratio of two parts carbohydrate to one part fat – the same ratio as breast milk. 

Researchers from the University of Michigan took 120 students, offered them a choice of 35 different foods, and asked them to fill in the Yale Food Addiction Scale, a measure of how addictive you find a particular food. The foods were then ranked from 1 to 35 by the students.

Top of the list of ‘most addictive foods’ was chocolate, followed by ice cream, French fries, pizza, biscuits, crisps, cake, buttered popcorn and cheeseburgers. At the bottom were salmon, brown rice, cucumber and broccoli.

Now experts from The Fast 800 programme, a weightloss plan devised by Micheal Mosely, have uncovered that, despite appearing to have little in common, each of the foods has approximately 2g carbs to 1g fat – the exact same ratio of fat to carbohydrate in human breast milk. 

The similarity between all your favourite addictive food 

1. Milk chocolate –  30g fat, 58g carbs

2. Ice cream – 12g fat, 24g carbs

3. Chips – 15g fat, 32g carbs

4. Pepperoni pizza – 10g fat, 30g carbs

5.  Crisps – 30g fat, 50g carbs

6. Sponge cake – 26g fat, 50g carbs

7. Buttered popcorn –  30g fat, 56g carbs

8. Cheeseburger – 14g fat, 30g carbs  

In fact, breast milk is one of the very few natural foods that contains high amounts of fat and carbs all mixed together. 

The infant brain is super-sensitive to experiences during early years, laying down neural reward pathways that last for life. 

It is not surprising, then, that the food that gives us our first feelings of reward lays the foundation for our later food cravings.  


Experts have revealed how addictive foods can often contain almost the exact same ratio of fat to carbohydrates – which is the same ratio as in human breast milk (pictured, left, the ‘most addictive’ food is chocolate, and right, ice cream comes second) 


Despite appearing completely different or random, experts believe they could have found the reason behind cravings for certain food (pictured right, 100g chips contain 15g fat, 32g carbs, and right, pepperoni pizza has a similar ratio with 10g fat too every 30g carbs)

Meanwhile crisps took the fifth on the most addictive list, and have a similar ratio of fat to carbohydrates content 

And despite appearing completely different to things like pepperoni pizza and crisps, experts believe they’ve now found the reason for different cravings 

But how can you beat the cravings? 

1. SWITCH TO A MEDITERRANEAN-STYLE DIET

Studies show that a Mediterranean-style diet can improve the performance of a brain region linked specifically to self-control.

The urge to give in to cravings of any kind – whether for food, nicotine, alcohol or gambling – is closely linked to a set of reward pathways forming part of the mid-brain. Signals from these pathways, however, can be given a ‘veto’ by another set of neurons, closer to the front of the brain, within the ‘prefrontal cortex’ or PFC.

In small children, the PFC is particularly under-developed. This is one reason why children struggle so much when they are not allowed whatever they want.

When the PFC functions well, on the other hand, we display the opposite of toddler tantrums. 

We are better able to focus; we have greater self-control, including control over what we eat; and we have greater mental flexibility. Together, these qualities are termed ‘executive function’.

In a review of a number of studies, a team of researchers at Trinity College, Dublin found that people who consume a Mediterranean-style diet – particularly one rich in extra-virgin olive oil, fish and fresh vegetables – tend to have better executive function compared to those following conventional weight-loss advice.

In order to conquer addictive foods, then, it is essential to keep your self-control in peak condition. And to do this, you need to look after your PFC. 

And to do this? Stock up your cupboards with fresh vegetables, fish, and extra-virgin olive oil. 

2. GET ACTIVE!

Increased fitness leads to increased prefrontal cortex size, which makes it easier to make the right food choices.

As we have seen, the idea that the brain is an unchangeable, hardwired set of drives is false: A factor as simple as the amount of fish you eat can have a measurable effect on how it functions.

Exercise, like diet, is another easy way to build a brain that can resist the lure of addictive foods.  

In 2011, a study showed that exercise can reverse loss of brain matter in later life. These kinds of results are especially important, as they support the conclusion that that exercise builds a better brain – not the other way around.

Remember, to get fitter, you don’t have to exhaust yourself training for a marathon, or squeeze into neon lycra. The key is to find an activity that you enjoy enough to take part in at least three times each week.

As well as following a structured programme of exercise, you can also improve your heart and lung function by increasing the number of steps that you take through the day. 

3. TRY TO LIMIT YOUR EXPOSURE TO STRESS

Stress measurably reduces your brain’s ability to resist unhealthy, tempting snacks.

To make it easier to choose healthy foods, try three simple steps: Plan your meals in advance; sleep more; try mindfulness.

Studies of how the brain responds to stress have made an amazing discovery: The drive to hit the junk when you are under pressure has its roots in brain pathways that are as real as anything else in your body. Junk food truly does become more attractive to us when we are stressed.

The sight of junk food, when we are stressed, is an obesity-trap. 

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Experts Reveal What Happens To Your Brain When You’re Sleep Deprived

We all sleep for around a third of our time on the planet. While it might seem like a colossal waste of time to some people, sleep is pretty essential for many areas of health — particularly a healthy, functioning brain. There’s a reason only one night’s sleep deprivation makes your brain stop working: the organ requires deep, restful sleep to help repair itself, store data, remove waste, form memories, and many other functions. If you burn the midnight oil, experience insomnia, or just sleep poorly for a few nights, your brain’s nightly routine is disrupted, and you’ll feel it when you wake up.

Far from being relaxed when you’re sleeping, your brain springs into a new phase of activity. "Our brains are very active during sleep and use a lot of energy," Dr. Mary Ellen Wells, Ph.D., the director of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine Neurodiagnostics and Sleep Science Program, tells Bustle. Only a small part of that energy is devoted to dreaming; the rest is spent on cleaning up, consolidating memories, and a host of other tasks. Experts believe this frenzy of activity happens during sleep because the brain can ignore the outside world, and just focus on itself. "While you’re asleep, less data is coming in from your senses, allowing for other systems to function," sleep expert Dr. Michael Breus, Ph.D. tells Bustle.

One way to look at the brain’s activities during sleep, Dr. Wells tells Bustle, is as clean-up. "Research suggests that our brain is doing very important housekeeping work during sleep, such as consolidating memories and sweeping out the neural trash," she says. Sleep is crucial for the process of forming new memories; if you don’t sleep well, your brain doesn’t transfer memories into long-term storage and you’ll have difficulties recalling them later.

Dr. Breus tells Bustle that the brain also uses sleep as a chance to get rid of data it doesn’t need, and to clear out physical waste products. "The brain removes protein and hormonal waste during sleep to keep its cells functioning," he says. A study published in 2019 found that cerebrospinal fluid, which circulates throughout the brain and spinal cord, increases in volume during sleep, possibly so that it can wash away rubbish that accumulated during waking hours. This removal process, Dr. Breus tells Bustle, operates on a circadian schedule; it’s tied to when we sleep and wake up. The accumulation of these waste products is associated with neurodegenerative illnesses like Alzheimer’s, so over time, sleep deprivation may impair your neural connections by clogging them with waste.

Besides cleaning, the brain also needs sleep to replenish itself. "Physical restoration of the brain occurs in stage three and four sleep," Dr. Breus tells Bustle. These are the deepest stages of sleep, when we experience rapid eye movement and dreaming. During this time, the brain goes to work on restoring any damage it’s sustained from during the daytime. "Sleep is the state in which the brain restores the metabolic stores, trims unneeded synapses, reinforces specific connections and overall becomes more energy efficient," Dr. Bradley Vaughn M.D., director of the UNC Sleep Disorders Clinic and professor of neurology, tells Bustle.

Studies have shown that the brain’s self-improvement overnight includes cutting back synapses to make room for new information and repairing damaged areas of cells. A study published in 2019 found that immune cells play a big part in this process; while we sleep, they get to work repairing nerve cells and the connections between them. Research published in Nature Communications in 2019 also suggested that the brain might be repairing damaged DNA in its neurons during the night. While we slumber, the brain is doing serious DIY — and when it’s sleep-deprived, it can’t repair itself and therefore can’t function at peak efficiency.

All of these nighttime functions are designed to help the brain operate at 100% when you wake up in the morning. "Sleep helps your brain prepare for the work of being awake and helps you perform better," Dr. Vaughn says. While you snooze and have odd dreams about cheese, your brain is doing a full spring-clean — so make sure you try to get a good eight or nine hours, and give it a chance to flourish.

Studies cited:

Dworak, M., Mccarley, R. W., Kim, T., Kalinchuk, A. V., & Basheer, R. (2010). Sleep and Brain Energy Levels: ATP Changes during Sleep. Journal of Neuroscience, 30(26), 9007–9016. doi: 10.1523/jneurosci.1423-10.2010

Eugene, A. R., & Masiak, J. (2015). The Neuroprotective Aspects of Sleep. MEDtube science, 3(1), 35–40.

Fultz, N.E., Bonmassar, G., Setsompop, K., Stickgold, R.A., Rosen, B.R., Polimeni, J.R., Lewis, L.D. (2019) Coupled electrophysiological, hemodynamic, and cerebrospinal fluid oscillations in human sleep. Science. 366(6465), 628-631, doi: 10.1126/science.aax5440

Hablitz, L. M., Vinitsky, H. S., Sun, Q., Stæger, F. F., Sigurdsson, B., Mortensen, K. N., … Nedergaard, M. (2019). Increased glymphatic influx is correlated with high EEG delta power and low heart rate in mice under anesthesia. Science Advances, 5(2). doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aav5447

Stowell, R.D., Sipe, G.O., Dawes, R.P. et al. (2019) Noradrenergic signaling in the wakeful state inhibits microglial surveillance and synaptic plasticity in the mouse visual cortex. Nat Neurosci 22, 1782–1792, doi:10.1038/s41593-019-0514-0

Zada, D., Bronshtein, I., Lerer-Goldshtein, T. et al. (2019) Sleep increases chromosome dynamics to enable reduction of accumulating DNA damage in single neurons. Nat Commun 10, 895, doi:10.1038/s41467-019-08806-w

Experts:

Dr. Michael Breus Ph.D., sleep expert

Dr. Bradley Vaughn M.D., director of the UNC Sleep Disorders Clinic and professor of neurology

Dr. Mary Ellen Wells Ph.D., director of the UNC School of Medicine Neurodiagnostics and Sleep Science Program

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