Early birds watching the Today show on May 13 were treated to the opinions of a new proponent of culinary Puritanism Dr. Steven Witherly. Dr. Witherly heads a supplement and ingredient company called Technical Products, Inc., although that fact was not mentioned on the Today interview.
The goal of his interview was to discuss the reasons Americans eat too much especially when we eat away from home. According to Dr. Witherly, when we eat out, we tend to eat foods that are high in pleasure foods that are also high in fat, salt and sugar. These foods (the usual culprits being fast foods such as burgers and fries, of course), he opined, make it hard to stop eating because they re so pleasurable. In fact, they re so yummy, they re downright addictive.
Eat at home and fool your pleasure-loving brain with high volume foods like high protein shakes. And perhaps take supplements that could help control your appetite.
There s no doubt that many foods high in fat, sugar, salt and most important, calories are attractive, and that many of us consume too much of them. But there s nothing that says that we can t consume similar foods at home, with similar results we can t live only on protein shakes and will need to make other choices as well. Further, the idea that some foods light up the brain with pleasure makes a lot of sense. Since we have to eat to survive, it would not be helpful, in terms of our evolutionary history, to have a negative reaction to foods.
But the idea that we should try to strictly avoid pleasureable foods because of their purported addictive properties in order to control our increasing girths seems like a non-starter unless you happen to get more pleasure from self-denial.
The concept that foods that stimulate so-called pleasure circuits in the brain are therefore addictive is an oversimplification of some very complex issues. Addiction implies a physiological dependence, and an increasing tolerance of the substance in question. It s doubtful that anyone can really demonstrate a dependence on French fries, tasty as they may be.
There s another concept that might be more helpful than self-denial how about if we started educating people about moderation and balancing food consumption with activity? It s not as sexy a theory as addictive food, but in the long run it might be more practical and therefore helpful.
Ruth Kava, Ph.D., R.D., is Director of Nutrition at the American Council on Science and Health.
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