Thursday, January 15, 2009


Addiction is a phenomenon that is encountered with many opiates like alcohol, psychedelic drugs, smoking etc but one never hears about food addiction which is now being blamed for abnormal BMI (over weight) and obesity. It is well known that some foods containing easily utilizable carbohydrates like sugar, starch in refined flours used for making hundreds of products like bread, biscuits, pastry etc, build up glucose in the blood very fast and normally in sound and healthy person this may not be a cause for worry as it is metabolized in the cells depleting the levels of glucose to safe limits within 90-120 minutes. But this is applicable only up to a limit beyond which the elevated glucose concentration in the blood will cause undesirable consequences. Complex carbohydrates that contain fiber and other constituents that retard glucose release are relatively safe because of steady absorption without creating high and abnormal peaks in glucose levels. The Glycemic Index (GI) and Glycemic Load ( GL) concepts tell it all. Generally low GI foods have values less than 55 while a GL of less than 10 per serving is considered low and desirable. Some of the low GI foods include Urad (20) with a GL of 5, Bengal gram 10 (GI) and 3 (GL), Green gram 22 and 4, Soybean 15 and 1, Almond 0 and 0 Cashew 22 and 3, Corn meal 68 and 9, Skimmed milk 35 and 3, Dry Peas 22 and 2, Broad beans 80 and 9, Dhokla 35 and 6 and Green peas 80 and 3. As one can see more than GI, GL gives the real sugar load on the body by each serving of about 150 gm in most of the cases.

High GL foods consumed in high quantities lead to formation of body fat leading eventually to obesity. What is more disturbing is the report that such high GI foods initiate a vicious cycle of more yearning for more such foods and more consumption causing more harm to the individual. Processed foods like white bread, sweets, confectionery, soft drinks, flavored syrups, etc are potential initiators of the habit of binging with out control and making such consumers perpetual food addicts. According to some scientists the high sugar in the blood stimulates the same areas of brain that are associated with addiction to nicotine (smoking) and habit forming drugs, a scary thought indeed. Brain has 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion connectors for memory alone. Out of the 50 neuro transmitters discovered so far in the brain, half a dozen are associated with addictions by causing euphoria. Invariably the level of Dopamine, considered the master molecule of addiction, is elevated during the euphoria. Addictive substances cause the body to become dependent on an unnatural substance for homeostatic balance. Removal will cause withdrawal symptoms and the addict suffers from the pain of readjustment demanding the missing substance. In a desperate attempt to maintain homeostasis the body cries for the very substance that caused the imbalance in the first instance!

World to day is spending billions of dollars to fight addictions to alcohol, smoking and harmful opiates and a time is not too far when attention needs to be focused on the increasing trend of food addiction due to affluence and industry's tendency to produce more refined foods with empty calories. Is it possible to make an attempt to restrict availability of foods with empty calories through policy orchestration at the government level and save humanity from massive addiction to sugar and sugar based foods and its terrible consequences? Food technologists and nutritionists have great responsibility in guiding the government through this mine field.


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