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Hard to Swallow: Processed Foods Linked to Addiction

Processed foods such as candy can trigger opiate receptors in brains, which could explain why once you start eating a handful of candy or chips, it's hard to stop. Credit: rosevita/morguefile.com
Processed foods such as candy can trigger opiate receptors in brains, which could explain why once you start eating a handful of candy or chips, it's hard to stop. Credit: rosevita/morguefile.com
October 28, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - While many of us still are digesting the news from the World Health Organization that the comfort and convenience foods of bacon and lunch meat could cause cancer, some experts also say processed foods can play a role in addiction.

After studying nutrition and addiction for 30 years, Keith Kantor has observed that a diet high in processed foods can contribute to substance abuse or relapses for recovering addicts.

"All we really did was transfer the addiction from the drugs and the alcohol to something else like sugar or caffeine," he said, "which gives them the same highs and lows that they give from the drug by raising and lowering in most cases their sugar level."

Kantor said processed foods can trigger the same opiate receptors in the brains of people who are not addicts. In those cases, grabbing a handful of candy corn or other simple carbohydrates can trigger the brain to demand more of the sugar high that comes from eating those foods.

Kantor explained that sugars trigger a boost of dopamine, which impacts your brain's pleasure and reward system. Refined sugar sparks a high release of dopamine because it's digested into the body quickly. While it might be difficult to eliminate all processed foods and simple sugars from your diet, Kantor said it's important to at least understand the impact of grabbing a handful of candy.

"So they want to stay away from sugar, gluten, as much as you can because they're going to stimulate the opiate receptors and it will cause them to eat more," he said, "and if they're trying not to during the holidays, there's lots of little tricks that you can do during the holidays to not eat more and eat healthy."

Nutritionists suggest increasing the number of whole-grain foods, fruits and vegetables in your diet to improve health and achieve weight loss if that is your goal.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN