Food Companies Are Making Their Products Addictive, and It's Sickening (Literally)
By Melissa Kravitz
Can't stop eating that bag of chips until you're licking the salt nestled in the corners of the empty package from your fingers? You're not alone. And it's not entirely your fault that the intended final handful of chips was not, indeed, your last for that snacking session. Many common snack foods have been expertly engineered to keep us addicted, almost constantly craving more of whatever falsely satisfying manufactured treat is in front of us.
"Humans have an inherited preference for energy-rich foods — like fats and sugars — and thus natural selection has predisposed us to foods high in sugar and fat," explains Jennifer Kaplan, instructor of the course Introduction to Food Systems at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, California. "Food scientists know this and create ingredients that are far higher in fat and sugar than occur in nature. The most common such sugar is high-fructose corn syrup and is therefore intrinsically addictive." In fact, foods that didn't used to be sweet, like pasta sauce, are now artificially sweetened to keep consumers craving the product, with sugar levels that can rival those found in packaged desserts.
High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is found in everything from ketchup and salad dressing to cereal and breads — foods that aren't necessarily perceived as sweet — and sometimes even in "healthier" alternatives, like light beer. Anheuser-Busch, the St. Louis-based brewer of Bud Light, highlighted the popular beer's lack of HFCS during a controversial Super Bowl commercial. The ad, which tried to push Bud Light as the more desirable light beer because of its lack of corn syrup (as opposed to its competitors), notably annoyed the brewery's neighboring midwestern corn farmers, who are subsidized by the U.S. government to essentially keep pumping our processed foods with corn products.
So what's so bad about HFCS, the ubiquitous ingredient so essential to the inner aisles of the American supermarket? A tablespoon of the super sweet stuff packs in roughly 53 calories, 14.4 grams of carbohydrates and 5 grams of sugar, while an entire ear of corn has about 123 calories. It's much easier to ingest extra, empty calories when they're processed down to a sugary additive, which enhances the flavor of processed foods.
As an ingredient, HFCS was shown in a 2013 study to be as addictive as drugs, like cocaine or heroin, with salt proven to have similarly addictive, opioid-like qualities. Australian neuroscientist Craig Smith has studied the effect of salt cravings in humans for years, concluding that eating excessive amounts of sodium makes people crave salt more, and those who eat less junk food can benefit from lower salt cravings and therefore fewer of the negative effects associated with too much salt consumption.
Even if a food isn't overly salty, salt may sneak into packaged food more rampantly than expected. "In most cases, salt is used as a preservative to give food extended shelf life and keep food safe," explains Nia Rennix, a clinical nutritionist who specializes in weight loss and blood sugar regulation. Salt can also be used to enhance a food's color (such as making the crust of bread a more appealing golden brown), as well as a flavor enhancer in foods you may not associate with saltiness, like ketchup or breads.
You may not be tasting the salt in your mall pretzel or packaged condiments, but salt as an ingredient is keeping you hooked. "Salt is extremely addictive, just as much as sugar. The more you consume salt, the more you crave it, and manufacturers realize this," says Rennix. "They continue to add salt to foods because they want you to continue to purchase [their products]. It doesn't matter if the salt is white, pink, sea salt or crystallized — it all has the same effect on one's body." Packaging may lead you to think that certain salts are healthier, but, truly they are all the singular thing that is bad in excess: Salt.
Beyond overeating in general, eating too much salt is proven to have negative effects on human health. "Eating too much salt is not good for your health, because the extra water that you hold on to raises your blood pressure. The more salt you eat, the higher your blood pressure," Rennix explains. "All of this can put a strain on your heart, kidneys, brain and arteries, which could lead to a stroke, heart attack or kidney disease." And yet, Americans remain casually addicted to the stuff.
While addictive drugs like cocaine and heroin are illegal, the U.S. currently has no regulations on the amounts of sugar, sweeteners and salt that can be added to foods widely available in grocery stores — a fact that underlies the looming public health crises of obesity and related illnesses. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 93.3 million Americans, roughly 40 percent, are affected by obesity, a condition closely associated with heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer and premature death. And even armed with this knowledge, many Americans are regularly lured in by food that is designed to be hard to resist.
"Making items highly palatable is just the beginning," explains chef and registered dietitian Jessica Swift, who holds an MSc in nutritional sciences. "Pumping food full of sugar to the person with the sweet tooth is what junk food companies strive for. Having that sugar could release dopamine, the feel-good hormone in the brain, which associates that food with pleasure — causing the body to crave more."
That feel-good sensation will keep you hooked on certain foods, which will bring instant comfort when consumed. "Wanting to repeat that pleasure is natural, and this can lead to over-consumption of said food," says Swift.
Self-soothing with food is a common, easy and often cheap tactic for a quick fix, but seeking that comfort can even be less obvious, especially when you're not necessarily feeling down. For example, smelling a dish outside a restaurant or at a supermarket can evoke pleasant memories that awaken cravings. "Absolutely, smelling a warm apple pie could remind you of grandma's Sunday dinners. Gingerbread could remind you of holidays with the family. [Scent can play a part in] ... the emotional attachment to food," says Swift. Associating food with pleasure keeps humans addicted even further to the foods engineered with excessive sugar, salt and fat to keep you craving more. Think of sniffing Cinnabon at the mall, a scent that has been proven to entice customers toward consuming previously unwanted calories and sugars.
While food addiction is often used colloquially, the Yale Food Addiction Scale has been developed as a measure to determine people's level of substance dependence. Still, even if not clinically diagnosed, humans can be unhealthily hooked on junk food. So how do we stop it?
"Choose moderation for foods that you think could be highly addictive for you," Swift recommends. "Make sure you are consuming a well-balanced diet and drinking plenty of fluids." When grocery shopping for items to stock your pantry with, read nutrition labels and avoid foods with high sodium and sugar content. "Do not keep these foods within arm's reach," Swift says. "Typically, when you have to put in an effort to get an item, you are less likely to consume it." At least in this case, laziness can help your health.
8 Detox #Salad Recipes to Kick-Start Healthy Eating https://t.co/CeHLq0uV7c @Healthline @naturallysavvy— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1550016017.0
Melissa Kravitz is a writing fellow at Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
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By Zahida Sherman
Cooking has always intimidated me. As a child, I would anxiously peer into the kitchen as my mother prepared Christmas dinner for our family.
Falling in Love With Food All Over Again<p>Slowly, through my most intimate relationships with friends and partners, I began to see the beauty — and rewards — of cooking.</p><p>I got tired of giving in to defeat and always bringing chips or paper products to social gatherings. I started asking my mom to send me her Christmas and Thanksgiving recipes. I even volunteered to host Thanksgiving dinner at my place.</p><p>Each time I heard my loved ones sing the praises of the foods I prepared for them, I felt a tinge more confident that I could carry out our traditions my way.</p><p>In reaching out to other relatives for their favorite recipes, I learned that they had a little help of their own. They didn't rely solely on their ancestral cooking instincts. They turned to Black chefs for guidance.</p><p>These 7 cookbooks by Black chefs have inspired my family and fed us in nutrients, joy, and spiritual sustenance. They're also helping me overcome my personal fears of cooking.</p>
Get CookingWhether you're in recovery from cooking fears like me, or are just looking to expand your culinary confidence with dishes honoring Black heritage, these Black chefs are here to support you on your journey.Turn on some music, give yourself permission to make mistakes, and throw down for yourself or your loved ones. Glorious flavors await you.
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By Tara Lohan
The conclusion to decades of work to remove a dam on the Middle Fork Nooksack River east of Bellingham, Washington began with a bang yesterday as crews breached the dam with a carefully planned detonation. This explosive denouement is also a beginning.
The History<p>The Middle Fork Nooksack drains glacier-fed headwater streams that run off the icy summit of 10,778-foot Mt. Baker. The Middle Fork joins the North Fork and then the mainstem of the Nooksack River, which travels to Bellingham Bay and Puget Sound. The entire Nooksack watershed stretches 830 square miles across Washington and into British Columbia.</p>
A Plan Comes Together<p>The Middle Fork dam is not a pool dam built for water storage. Much of the time, water flows over the top until dam operators drop a floodgate to divert water to new locations. That water travels about 14 miles through tunnel and pipeline to Mirror Lake, then Anderson Creek, and to Lake Whatcom before finally being delivered to residents' taps.</p><p>Before removing the dam, engineers had to move the water intake 700 feet upstream and situate it at an elevation that still enabled city water withdrawals throughout the year, regardless of flow conditions.</p><p>They also needed to make sure that the rushing water didn't sweep up fish and accidentally send them through the water-supply system.</p><p>"The solution required a fairly complex design in the intake structure, including a fish exit pipe out of that structure to put fish back into the river in a way that meets current environmental permit standards," explains LaCroix.</p>
Project layout for the removal of the Middle Fork Nooksack diversion dam and rebuilding of water intake. City of Bellingham<p>Despite the cost and the work, she says, being able to continue to meet their municipal water obligations while opening up habitat for threatened species has been a win-win.</p><p>"I think there's a lot of benefits to having a dam removal versus fish passage — the main one being that you get a free-flowing river that can be a dynamic ecosystem and change over time," she says. "A static fish ladder just can't provide that same level of ecosystem benefit."</p>
Restoration Success<p>Despite local authorities' championing dam removal on the Middle Fork, the project has largely flown under the radar, overshadowed in the Pacific Northwest by heated discussions about a much larger potential project — removing <a href="https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/feds-reject-removal-of-4-snake-river-dams-in-key-report/" target="_blank">four federal hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River</a>, a major tributary of the Columbia River.</p><p>Proponents of dam removal there see it as the best chance for recovering threatened salmon populations, including Chinook, which could help starving Southern Resident killer whales. Those dams also provide irrigation water, barge navigation and hydropower, so there's been more pushback against removal efforts.</p><p>Previous dam removals around the country, however, have proved successful at aiding fish recovery and river restoration.</p><p>Most notably the 1999 demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/edwards-dam-removal/" target="_blank">Edwards Dam on Maine's Kennebec River</a> restored the annual run of alewives, a type of herring essential to the food web. The fish run has gone from zero to 5 million in the two decades since dam removal. Blueback herring, striped bass, sturgeon and shad have also extended their reach. And the resurgence has brought back osprey, bald eagles and other wildlife, too.</p><p>The overwhelming success of river restoration on the Kennebec helped to spur a nationwide dam removal movement that's now seen 1,200 dams come down since 1999. Last year a record <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/conservation-resource/a-record-26-states-removed-dams-in-2019/" target="_blank">90 dams</a> were removed in 26 states, including <a href="https://therevelator.org/cleveland-forest-dam-removal/" target="_blank">20 dams in California's Cleveland National Forest</a>.</p>
Spider excavators remove on dam on San Juan Creek in California's Cleveland National Forest. Julie Donnell, USFS<p>The results have been seen in the Pacific Northwest, as well, which boasts the largest dam removal thus far in the country. In 2011 and 2014, the demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/elwha-dam-removal/" target="_blank">two dams</a> on Elwha River, which runs through Washington's Olympic National Park, opened up 70 miles of habitat that had been blocked for a century. Scientists have started seeing all five species of salmon native to the river coming back, particularly Chinook and coho. Bull trout, they've observed, have increased in size since the dams were removal.</p>
Benefits on the Middle Fork Nooksack<p>McEwan hopes to see a similar outcome on the Middle Fork.</p><p>Like the Elwha the Middle Fork Nooksack is a relatively pristine river with little development, and dam removal is expected to provide a big boost to fish. The additional miles of spawning habitat are important, but so is the temperature of that water.</p><p>The dam removal will open access to cold upstream waters, which are ideal for salmon and getting harder to come by as climate change warms waters and reduces mountain runoff.</p><p>"This is really great for the climate change resiliency for these species," says McEwan.</p><p>Steelhead will get back 45% of their historic habitat in the river, and scientists expect Chinook populations to increase in abundance by 31%.</p><p>That <em>could</em> help Southern Resident killer whales.</p><p>"When you get to the ocean, it's a little bit of a black box in terms of what you can model and say definitively is going to help, but more fish is better for orcas," McEwan says.</p><p>Upstream habitat will see benefits, too.</p><p>Oceangoing fish like salmon enrich their bodies with carbon and nitrogen while at sea. When they return to their natal rivers to spawn and die, the marine-derived nutrients they carry back upriver become important food and fertilizer for both riverine and terrestrial ecosystems — aiding everything from trees to birds to bears.</p><p>"Once the fish start making their way back, it will start changing the whole ecological system," says Delgado.</p><p><span></span>But any ecological benefit from salmon restoration, either in the ocean or the upper watershed, won't be immediate.<br></p><p>"The population of salmon on the Middle Fork is so low that we expect it's going to take quite a while to rebound," she says. "But the big picture is that what's good for salmon is good for the region — our history and our destiny are intricately intertwined."</p><p>After decades of work, that process of restoration has finally begun.</p>
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By Katie Howell
A new tool called The Food Systems Dashboard aims to save decision makers time and energy by painting a complete picture of a country's food system. Created by the Johns Hopkins' Alliance for a Healthier World, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Dashboard compiles food systems data from over 35 sources and offers it as a public good.
By Manuela Callari
It can grow to a maximum of six inches (16 centimeters), change color depending on mood and habitat, and, like all seahorses, the White's seahorse male gestates its young. But this tiny snouted fish is under threat.
Building an Ocean Seahorse Destination<p>Seahorses are found in tropical and temperate coastal water worldwide, but are most abundant around Australia, China and the Philippines. </p><p>Trade in the tiny creatures is strictly regulated because of their use in traditional medicine, aquariums and their sale as dried curios. But because they are poor swimmers and cannot easily move elsewhere, habitat loss is a particular threat for these curious animals. </p><p>Seahorses wrap their tails around seagrass and corals to avoid being carried away on currents. They use the habitat to spawn and hide from predators such as crabs, while also feeding on riches of plankton and small crustaceans living in the reef.</p><p><span></span>Where corals aren't available, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/aqc.1217" target="_blank">scientists</a> found seahorses taking up residence in fishing nets and old crab traps abandoned at the bottom of the ocean. </p>
Mixing With the Locals<p>Baby seahorse mortality is high in the wild because they are easily caught, so those bred in the protected environment of the aquarium weren't ready to be released into the wild until early May.</p><p>The team released 90 new arrivals into Sydney Harbor, placing some directly into the purpose-built hotels, and others onto a net that wild seahorses had already settled on.</p><p>Before setting them free, the researchers marked each young seahorse with a fluorescent tag with unique IDs inserted just beneath the skin to track how they get on in the different environments. </p><p>"The most exciting part was being able to put these animals into the wild and then go back a month later and still see them surviving and growing," said McCracken. </p><p>The seahorses will be old enough to mate and reproduce around October or November 2020. And researchers hope that by then, they will be able to breed with the wild population. </p>
Building a Global Seahorse Hotel Chain<p>With seahorses everywhere facing the loss of their coral reef homes, similar projects have sprung up in places like Greece and South Africa, home to the world's most endangered seahorse, the Knysna seahorse. </p><p>"The endangered South African seahorse is benefiting from something quite similar, even though it wasn't intentional," said Peter Teske, professor at the Department of Zoology, University of Johannesburg.</p><p>In the South African <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322649251_An_endangered_seahorse_selectively_chooses_an_artificial_structure" target="_blank">case</a>, seahorses have bedded down in "Reno mattresses" — wire cages filled with rocks — that were used to build a new marina. Researchers from NGO Knysna Basin Project found the structures acted as a refuge for the animals.<span></span></p><p><span></span>While Teske describes the seahorse hotels as "a positive news story" and a great way to create public awareness of conservation, he added that establishing artificial habitats in some areas will only prevent the extinction of local populations.</p><p>"For a complete recovery, it is necessary to give the natural habitat a chance to regenerate," said the seahorse expert. </p>
Underwater Mascot<p>In Australia, the researchers hope the project could provide an opportunity to raise awareness not only of the plight of the Sydney seahorses but the other animals with which it shares its ocean habitat.</p><p>The waters around Sydney and the east coast are rich in biodiversity and include several threatened species like the weedy seadragon — a relative of the seahorse — and the grey nurse shark. Like the seahorse, they're also under pressure from pollution, ocean traffic and habitat loss through storms and coastal construction. </p><p>"It's a good thing to get people's support and interest. The seahorses are a useful vehicle to get people concerned if the harbor is in trouble," said David Booth, professor of marine ecology at the University of Technology Sydney who is also working on the project. </p><p>The hotels have become an attraction for divers hoping to catch a glimpse of these small but near mythical creatures. </p><p>"Everyone loves seahorses," added Booth, "they are so popular." </p>
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