The new drug of the century: Junk Food

The struggle with preventing and controlling obesity is nothing new. In Singapore, more and more people are having health problems even before they reach obesity. It doesn’t take an obese person to be unhealthy in today’s times. An average sized person who eats badly, can be inviting a host of physical problems very quickly in the near future.

Some of the main reasons people cite as to why they are not as food conscious as they should be, points at the lack of time in their lives. Processed, packaged foods are much faster to prepare and requires almost no washing up after, according to busy working adults. It seems like convenience is the key to the choice of foods these days. 

Apart from convenience in preparation, taste could be a factor in buying these junk foods, as they often contain high sodium and sugar levels. Working adults aren’t the only ones consuming more junk food, it seems that children are exposed to consuming junk in younger ages and in larger amounts in recent years.

Researches have found that burgers, chips and sausages have built the human brain into craving more sugar, salt, and fat laden foods as our taste buds adapt. It is found that overconsumption of high calorie foods actually trigger an addiction-like response in the brain that is similar to that of drugs.

A three year research on rats have presented “the most thorough and compelling evidence that drug addiction and obesity are based on the same underlying neurobiological mechanisms”.

The rats were divided into three groups. The first were fed healthy amounts of food to eat, the other was given restricted amount of junk food, while the third had unlimited amount of junk food. The third group, as you would imagine, got fat very quickly and started bingeing.

Apparently, eating junk food registers as ‘pleasure’ in the brain, and the more they ate over time, the larger the quantity it takes in order to reach the same amount of ‘pleasure’ registered by the brain. The brain practically got immune to the intake of junk food, and needs more to reach the same ‘high’ it felt the first time, just like drug addicts. This pretty much sums up the act of overeating, and may very well be the cause of obesity.

The addiction to junk food, whether we acknowledge it or not, has even been compared to the famous tobacco history, as smoking was not always admitted as a health risk especially the misinformation through advertising and marketing by the large companies.

However, not everyone thinks the research results are enough. Lobbyists for food industries insists there’s no such thing as a food addiction. Richard Adamson, consultant for the American Beverage Association said, “I have never heard of anyone robbing a bank to get money to buy a candy bar or ice cream or pop.”

Well, yeah sure, those people are too busy getting fat and stuffing their face with foods to do that, in case you didn’t notice, Mr Adamson.

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The controversy of genetically modified foods (GMO)

Some people choose to buy organic because of the unnatural way many companies have chosen to produce their crops or livestock. We have been subtly introduced genetically modified foods since the middle of 1990s and look at us now – we cannot even tell the difference between foods that are genetically modified and foods that are planted and harvested by conventional methods. Documentary (part 2) by journalist Jane Moore went on a mission looking into origins of our foods these days and the truth will shock you if the term ‘genetically modified’ does not already.

The reason why many people shun organic food is because of the price, and because there has been no proper education given on the technology that is used on foods known as genetically modified organisms (GMO). Genetically modified foods are separated into two categories. The first one is genetically modified crops and the second is the way live stocks are being bred to produce meat that is virtually sold everywhere today. The GM crops are created by introducing genes in existing plants to produce ‘superior’ and ‘purer’ harvest that are supposed to be resilient to pests and weeds, to be easier to grow, and supposedly to be higher in nutrient levels.  Most live stocks including cows, chickens, pigs, and even some salmon fish farms, are usually injected with growth hormones and antibiotics that will make them grow faster and bigger than what was considered normal size about a decade ago.

While these GM foods are supposed to be better, they are not everything they claimed to be. Companies creating these GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are also companies that sell the pesticides used on these crops as it turned out GM crops are even more in need of pesticides and herbicides. Despite its claims, GM crops are harder and more expensive for farmers to sustain, and whether it is safe for the environment is another issue.

Government bodies would have assured you that there has been no direct health or environmental concerns linked to the use of genetic modifications, but many concerns have been raised regarding the long term side effects of consuming GMOs in accumulative amounts. Some states in Brazil have entirely banned GM crops, and the Brazilian Institute for the Defense of Consumers, in collaboration with Greenpeace, has prevented the importations of GM crops. In Europe there are large numbers of consumers unhappy with the increase in GM crops, leading them to mandate labeling of GM foods and non-GM foods so people have a choice.

A Genetic Modification Advisory Committee (GMAC) in Singapore was set up in April 1999, however, all foods containing GMOs entering Singapore must be proven safe by competent national regulatory bodies of the exporting country before being allowed into Singapore. This would mean we do not have our own national guidelines regarding GM foods. In regards to labeling of GM foods in Singapore, a consumer writing in to Straits times questioning the safety of international food safety standards was replied by GMAC that “The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) requires GM food intended for sale in Singapore to be subject to rigorous assessment and approval in the developed countries.”.  This “rigorous assessment and approval in the developed countries” would include the very confused regulatory process in the United States, which has three different government agencies that have jurisdiction over GM foods.

In the United States, they have the EPA, USDA and the FDA. In a nutshell, the EPA is in charge of evaluating crops for environmental safety, and the USDA evaluates whether the plant is safe to grow. Companies creating GM crops do not require a permit from USDA if they meet these 6 criteria:

1) The plant is not a noxious weed;

2) The genetic material introduced into the GM plant is stably integrated into the plant’s own genome;

3) The function of the introduced gene is known and does not cause plant disease;

4) The GM plant is not toxic to non-target organisms;

5) The introduced gene will not cause the creation of new plant viruses; and

6) The GM plant cannot contain genetic material from animal or human pathogens (see http://www.aphis.usda.gov:80/bbep/bp/7cfr340 ).

Image from 'http://www.whatisall.com/science/what-are-genetically-modified-foods.html'

Not one of those criteria involves checking for long term effects when consumed by humans in accumulative amounts. Lastly, the FDA evaluates pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and food products and additives, not whole foods. And so asking FDA to regulate something like corn, or apples and soybeans is not possible because these are considered “whole foods”.  The FDA’s take on GM foods is that they are  substantially equivalent to unmodified, “natural” foods, and therefore not subject to FDA regulation. When consumer interests groups asked the FDA to include their evaluation on whole foods, they replied that “the agency currently does not have the time, money, or resources to carry out exhaustive health and safety studies of every proposed GM food product”.

I believe consumers have the most say in deciding what foods they want. I find it highly unfair that this technology so widely used in our foods today is not being thoroughly explained or even made known to every consumers. People should be more aware and selective when it comes to food, as many people get too comfortable and trust blindly what is laid out there, instead of reading what’s on the label of their purchases.

Coffee is not your saviour

Without a doubt, many people rely on coffee for their morning ‘wake up call’. Even healthy people who eat right, and are food conscious, drinks coffee once in a while. It is perfectly fine to indulge in coffee occasionally, but what is worrying though, are people who drinks coffee everyday, and at least three times a day. If you look up the internet you’ll find websites listing mostly benefits of coffee, and that is puzzling because coffee is far from beneficial. There may be some truth in those beneficial claims but more than often, the beneficial gains of coffee to the ratio of negative effects is 1:9. It doesn’t help that the media seems to associate coffee with a ‘hip’ or ‘cool’ lifestyle especially in television dramas for teens, with actors casually mentioning grabbing cups of coffee anytime of the day.

Recent research also showed that coffee is just a placebo for people reliant on their daily coffee fix and does not increase attention span and concentration. Regular consumers of coffee feel the effects of heightened alertness from coffee due to the chronic fatigue they suffer, and what the coffee does is merely masking that fatigue they are feeling for as long as the effects last. 

Coffee is also known to increase norepinephrine production, which is a stress hormone, and can cause palpitations, leading to a rise in blood pressure resulting in anxiety. This explains that ‘perk’ you feel that makes you think you’re awake after drinking that cup of coffee first thing in the morning. When the effect wears off, you long for another cup of coffee, thus developing a mental and physical dependency towards it.

Caffeine is not only diuretic, causing your body to dehydrate faster if you don’t drink enough liquids that is not coffee, it also has a taxing effect on your liver which metabolizes it. If consumed over a long periods of time, it will cause your liver to be overworked and slow down the ability to burn fats and cleanse the other toxins in your body.

Because coffee is acidic, when taken too much or on an empty stomach, can disrupt digestion in your stomach and then speeding up the passage of waste in the intestines, causing a sudden laxative effect. Such acidity are main contributors of ulcers of any kind and also heart burn for those who are more prone to digestive problems.

Instead of relying on coffee to give you a temporary boost that actually takes a toll on your body, I’d say try being alert and awake the Jack Lalanne way as he advises on how to stop being so tired all the time. Simple and common sense advice, but sadly, not many people follow.

Are you still going to pick up that cup of coffee after reading this?

Are you a sugarholic?

We all know too much sugar is bad for you. But do you know how bad it is for you? Most of our daily intake of sugar exceeds the daily requirement just by the afternoon. Sugar is in your cereal, your flavored milk, your coffee and tea, your food sauce, your pie, your cookie, dessert and the list goes on. In fact, a video on CBSNews website says, the sugar intake required for a day can be found in just half a can of soda.

According to this article, consuming too much sugar has proved to reduce the production of a brain chemical known as Brain-derived-neurotrophic factor (BDNF). With BDNF levels reduced, it contributes to insulin resistance which leads to diabetes and a host of other problems. Low BDNF levels are also linked to depression and dementia. And guess what? Chronic intake of sugar actually makes your brain unable to tell your body to stop eating, which is the reason for your sweet cravings.

Eating too much sugar is common sense  and everyone knows it. But to actually stop it and make a healthy change in your life is another issue. These knowledge are not newfound studies and research that are only reported recently. Jack Lalanne, was an advocate of eating and living healthy, and used his life as the best example to show the world that it works. He died at age 96 and was probably fitter than anyone in their 20s. The only regret is not knowing about him earlier or I would have bought a ticket and flown to meet this man in person. 

Jack Lalanne knew from the start that people are consuming sugar way more than what the body needs and by doing so, we are slowly eating ourselves to death. Watch the video below as Jack Lalanne explains and gives a lecture on ‘sugarholics’. Bear in mind that this is a black and white video and the sad fact is that this video is even more relevant to the way people live today. It is unfortunate that with all the advancement in technology and economy nowadays and we don’t even know how to eat to treat our body right. Guess wisdom really does not come with age.