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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