The Addictive “Nature” of “Food”

A few weeks ago, the New York Times Magazine ran an extraordinary story about the science of junk food.  It was a long and in-depth explanation about the history of the food industry and how companies have worked collectively to find the patterns of tastes with no regard for the growing obesity epidemic.

I urge you to read the article when you have time.  It is one of the more thought-provoking stories I’ve read regarding the modern food industry and how calculated the flavors are that we taste in processed foods.  Intended to become addictive and drive sales, the chemicals used in processed foods aren’t just ‘bad’ for us on a nutritional level.  They are bad for us because of their intended addictiveness.

The article goes on to give examples of grocery store staples– jarred spaghetti sauce and yogurt– and explains how the formulas used by major food brands pack more sugar into those seemingly healthy products than in know ‘junk food’ like sugar cereal.  It is these types of hidden pitfalls in the grocery store that keep American consumers coming back for more and more sugar, even as we get more and more obese.

The question is raised regarding the ethical obligations of the food industry to the consumer.  If a company knowingly produces and sells a product– like Lunchables, for example– that they have engineered to have an addictive taste and little nutritional value while packing a caloric punch, are they contributing to the obesity epidemic in the same way tobacco companies are now being held liable for cancer-related illnesses?  Only time will tell.

Reading this article highlights one of the great struggles of modern parenting: we are trying to teach our children that food is good and healthy, but so much of what we have to choose from in the grocery store is even worse than not good and not healthy– it is downright addictive.  How do we balance work and family life while avoiding unprocessed “foods” as much as possible?  There is no one-size-fits-all answer.

Whether you grow your own garden or prep all of your meals on the weekends, I’d love to hear your ideas about realistic steps you take to eat fresh, healthy, unprocessed food.

Good health and great happiness to you.


2 responses to “The Addictive “Nature” of “Food”

  1. I personally try to avoid all processed foods, with the exception of kefir, whey protein, raw granola, and kind bars! Once I got used to it, it was actually easier than I thought it would be.

    I usually grill up a few chicken breasts on Sunday for our lunches during the week, and always make sure to have plenty of nuts and fruit in the house for snacks.

    For breakfast, I will have eggs and greens or raw granola. If I’m pressed for time, I grab a handful of nuts and drink a glass of kefir.

    For lunch, I’ll make a high protein, low sugar smoothie or a salad w lean protein.

    The boys have a little more wiggle room for breakfast than I do, simply because they a) love bread b) don’t love cereal. But other than gluten free bread, they eat eggs or cheese, and fruit for breakfast. Lunches usually consist of cooked chicken or other lean meat, fruit, veg, and nuts.

    Dinner is easiest: Lean organic protein, one green veg (broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts), one non green veg (sweet pot, cauliflower, red pot), and salad. I sometimes make a stew, zucchini noodles with a meat sauce, or for a big splurge: burgers with buns or beef fajita nachos.

    Weekends are sort of a free for all – I let myself enjoy whatever I feel like eating, although I don’t ever go overboard. I love to bake and make breakfast on the weekends, and there really isn’t anything better than a fresh homemade biscuit! We also go out for dinner on the weekends, however, the restaurants we frequent make it easy for me to eat healthy without feeling like I’m missing out (Hopdoddy arugula and kale salad with a buffalo patty, for instance!)

    The boys do have crackers now and then, but always a sensible amount paired with cheese or nuts, and fruit.

    We also treat treats as treats and talk about what makes food nutritious or unhealthy. My boys understand what processed food is and make a personal choice to limit it because they understand what it does to their bodies.

    • Those are great ideas, Becca! I agree that the idea of giving up processed foods was incredibly overwhelming, but the reality was easier than I expected. You’re teaching your kids life lessons for which they’ll be grateful.

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