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Paula Goodyer and the Taste of Addiction

July 15, 2010

Junk Food

Paula Goodyer writes about health for The Sydney Morning Herald and Cleo Magazine, among others, and has published three books. She is a recipient of the Walkley award, the Australian journalistic-excellence equivalent of the Pulitzer.

In her “The Taste of Addiction” article, Goodyer considers the ideas of Dr. David Kessler, who is highly suspicious of the obscene amounts of flavoring agents and chemicals being added to junk food in order to create the taste that enslaves. Goodyer says,

He calls it hyperpalatability and, put simply, it’s the creation of moreish flavors in food that so stimulate the appetite that they override the body’s normal controls to stop eating… Kessler also points to research suggesting these foods have addictive qualities because they can trigger opioids, ‘feel good’ chemicals in the brain. Eat these foods often enough, so the theory goes, and we can become conditioned to wanting them more and more.

“Moreish,” by the way, is a cool word that refers to something either just on the edge of addictive, or is already there. It’s sometimes borrowed by people who really mean “addictive,” except they don’t want to admit there is such a thing as food addiction. Only very, very strong preferences.

As Goodyer points out, one reason that fast food is so dangerous is precisely because it is fast. Certain kinds of edible treats require a lot of prep time. Back when we had to do it all ourselves, that fact has set a limit on the number of super-delectable dishes available to tempt anyone. She says,

There’s a difference between the fatty foods with big flavor hits that you make in your own kitchen and those that come ready made from the supermarket or food court. It’s called time. Time spent sourcing the ingredients and time spent cooking used to be the barrier that stood between us and eating too many treats.

This reminds me of french fries. When I was growing up, and when I was a young mom, french fries were something special. You peeled a bunch of potatoes and sliced them all to just the right dimensions. You took your pot of carefully saved french-fry oil from the refrigerator and let it come up to room temperature, and then heated it up for the fries. You needed a goodly number of paper-towel layers to drain them.

This is not a process a cook at home wants to go through every day, especially in the summertime. The amount of hassle required to make french fries is, in fact, Nature’s way of telling us that it’s really not such a great idea. Now, however, I can blithely defy Nature, and get ready-made fries outside of home within five minutes, on any day of the week.

Goodyer also talks about the drug called naloxone. The bottom line is, this pharmaceutical, which can reduce the craving for heroin, can also cut down cravings for food. In other words, it’s a clue that the food-addiction idea is not totally off the wall. Besides, the addictive quality of hyperpalatable pseudo-foods is attested to by the many children and teens who have responded to the polls on Dr. Pretlow’s Weigh2Rock website, and whose words appear in his book, Overweight: What Kids Say.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The taste of addiction,” The Sydney Morning Herald, 06/14/10
Image by mauricesvay, used under its Creative Commons license.

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