#93 Why Can't I Stop Eating That...The Struggle With Hyper palatable Foods

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If you’ve ever felt out of control when it comes to food, this is an episode that you don’t want to miss. 

Have you ever considered that the food itself and the way you’ve conditioned yourself to eat are a bigger problem than your will power? 

In this episode I’ll tell you all about hyper palatable foods. These foods are extra tasty because of the combination of fats, sugar, salts and carbohydrates in them. They are also the foods that have led to the idea of food addictions. 

Listen in to hear what a Hyper palatable food is, how they effect your eating behaviors and what you can do to take back the power over your food choices so you are in control of your food instead of the food being in control of you. 


Hyper‐Palatable Foods: Development of a Quantitative Definition and Application to the US Food System Database

Supra-Additive Effects of Combining Fat and Carbohydrate on Food Reward

What we eat in america

Food and nutrient database for dietary studies

Which Foods May Be Addictive? The Roles of Processing, Fat Content, and Glycemic Load


Read Full Transcript Below:


At the time of this recording we’re in the middle of my 5 day sugar challenge and I have to tell you it’s been really great. This challenge is all about taking a mindful approach to eating and drinking sugary foods. And contrary to what you might expect, we’re not talking that much about food. Because food usually isn’t the problem... the way you think about food and the way you react to thoughts, urges and cravings is far more powerful than changing the food you eat. Changing your mindset is the key to changing your food choices...not turning to willpower as so many people think.


I wanted to talk about this today because one of the biggest concerns after a diagnosis of breast cancer is what do I eat? 


We worry that what we eat will lead to a cancer recurrence or we’re hopeful that what we eat will support the prevention of a recurrence and we’re correct on both accounts. 


lifestyle habits are major contributors to cancer and they include food, physical activity, stress reduction, smoking, alcohol consumption, body weight and several other factors. The studies in this area have some conflicting data but even so they show that lifestyle habits contribute to anywhere from 70 to 90% of cancer diagnosis.


When it comes to food the jury is still out, because the studies say that the correlation between overweight and cancer, and specific foods and cancer make it difficult to determine what is the biggest contributor…. the food or the excess body fat. 


But at the end of the day they both play a role because obviously food contributes to being overweight. 


Before the sugar challenge began last week, I asked the women in the challenge what their biggest issue around sugary foods was and I heard a lot about cravings which is what inspired me to do this episode about a particular type of food that is very prevalent in our “western diet”


These foods are actually designed to make it more difficult for you to say no to them, they are created to make your brain want more. By created I mean that food manufacturers spend a lot of money and time researching what combinations of ingredients have the most powerful impact on the reward centers in consumers' brains. They work hard to develop the right colors, fragrances and flavors that keep you coming back for more food.  This isn't just packed food in the grocery aisles either. This includes fast foods from the big familiar chains that may of us wait in line for breakfast lunch and or dinner,


These are called hyper palatable foods and According to Terra L. Fazzino, at the Cofrin Logan Center for Addiction Research and Treatment, at the University of Kansas, a hyper palatable food is one where the synergy between components of the food — such as fat, sodium (salt), sugar, and carbohydrates — makes it tastier than it would otherwise be. 


Think of fast food french fries, burgers and chicken sandwiches, or packaged cookies, and brownies that don’t taste like the foods you make at home but they’re so good you feel like you can’t stop eating them until they’re gone. 


Then there are also foods we prepare at home and in restaurants in such a way the combination of fats and salts and sugars used in cooking make it so good that you have to lay on the couch to recover from eating it...what the heck...we eat to the point of physical discomfort? 

Why do we do that?


Well, that isn’t happening because you don’t have any willpower. 

On the one hand there's the abundance of hPF and on the other there’s the way we’ve conditioned ourselves to eat. Which is unconsciously for the most part and often even powerlessly. 


Meaning we say i can’t help myself. So we're going to dig into both of these issues today.


Your amazing body... and it truly is a fantastic, intuitive, amazing creation, has all kinds of mechanisms in place to maintain your heart rate, your temperature, heal itself and among many other things your body rewards you with a flood of the feel good chemical dopamine when you do something good ..its a reward system that says yes I like that do it again.


Even if you hate exercising you have to admit that when you get out and get active you’ll catch yourself saying afterward, I”m glad I did that, I do feel good. 

Well, once you take a bite of food you set off all kinds of chemical reactions in your body and brain. And these reactions are needed for proper digestion and to tell you if your body likes that food and when you’ve had enough of it. The problem comes in when we choose to override our sensations of fullness, ignore the fact that we’re not hungry and choose to eat anyway and choose hyperpalatable foods that cause a reason in your body that makes your brain say yes….more of that please.


One of the mechanisms in your amazing body is called sensory specific satiety which means that as you eat a food it becomes less pleasing with each bite. This is part of your body’s intuitive way of saying that’s good but that’s enough now.


The interesting thing is that if you are eating one food and you think ok that’s enough of that, then someone puts a new food in front of you. The first bite of that food will also be more pleasing than the future bites.


Then a new food will start the experience again. For instance,Think about when you finish dinner and you’re like “I can’t possibly take another bite of that pasta but I’ll just take a taste of that tiramisu. 

And then the tiramisu is so delicious.  

Fill in the food that works for you but, You know what I’m saying right. 


What studies have found is that foods that have high combinations of fat, sugar, salt...hyper palatables seem to dull the mechanism of  sensory specific satiety. 


Which means that even though you may feel satisfied by what you’ve eaten, you may continue to eat these foods that your brain sees as highly rewarding.


A 2018 study published in the Journal of cell metabolism found… when the study participants brains were scanned with fMRIs..foods that have a high combination off fat and carbohydrate compared to foods that are high in only fat or only carbohydrate, recruited more of central reward circuits in people's brains and were perceived as more valuable. Meaning that people were willing to pay more money for these foods.


So what foods are considered hyper palatable?


In 2019 a study was published in the research journal “Obesity” where a team of researchers evaluated other studies to try and come up with a definition of hyper palatable foods. 


After they evaluated cross referenced all the studies and did all the science stuff, they came up with 3 different categories that defined what these foods are

One category was foods high in the combination of fat and sodium. 


These foods had a combination of 47% or higher in fats, 22% or higher in carb and 10% or higher in sugar. This category included foods like pancakes, cookies, and butter popcorn. 


Then there was the Fat sugar combination group which included foods that had 50% or more of their calories from fat, 14% of or more from carbs and 37 % or more from sugar 

This category included foods like pies, cakes, sweet cereals and most deserts.


The third category group was the carb/sodium category

These foods had a combination of at least 23% fat, 57% carb and at least 6% sugar. These are foods like pizza, pasta, cereals and salty snack foods. 


Once they came up with these categories, they applied the criteria to nearly 500 foods in the Food and nutrient database for dietary studies. 


This is a database of nutrient values taken from another database called what we eat in america.


 I’ll post that resource in the show notes for this episode but what we eat in America is compiled from interviews with real people based on what they ate over a specific period of time.


So what this study found was that 81% of the items in this database met the criteria for hyper palatable foods mostly based on the way the foods were prepared. Meaning what was added to the food in cooking or processing caused it to be a HPF. 


Have you ever eaten a food that was labeled low fat or low calorie and you couldn’t believe how good it tasted. That’s the best right? When you find a food like that you can eat as much as you want and be guilt free.


Well, think again, what this study found was 80% of the 127 items labeled as low fat or low calorie met the criteria for a HPF. 


Side note here. There’s a local restaurant to me that’s a farm to table type place. And they have a dish called the happy vegan salad. I love that salad is so delicious. The dressing is spot on and it’s served with a little ice cream scoop size of hummus, farro, and tabouleh.

I love this salad and I always felt so healthy and satisfied eating it. And then one day I was going to meet a friend there for lunch and it was after they made restaurants post the calorie content of their foods. So I looked up that salad, mostly to make myself feel good and I found that it had a whopping 1200 calories. I was shocked. That’s a huge amount of calories for one meal and it's a flipping vegan salad. How could that be? Well it’s all the delicious fats and salts in the dressing and tasty topping scoops that made them so delicious. I should have known better because my hummus never tastes like that!


Back to the studies...I want to point out that all of the studies that were compared had to meet the criteria of being studied on humans and examining the palatability of western foods. 


So these were common foods that real people reported eating.  


Let’s talk about the foods that did not meet the requirements for being hyperpalatable.  No fresh or raw fruits, meats or fish, unsalted nuts, heavy cream with nothing added to it and 97% of vegetables were not considered HPF.


Now there’s a lot of debate over food addiction, is it real, if so what’s the definition of food addiction, and so on.


Well, according to a study by the University of michigan where they examined “addictive like” eating behaviors in more than 500 people. They found that more than 90% of the study participants had addictive like eating behaviors towards at least some of the 35 foods they were exposed to.


 Addictive like eating behavior in this study meant that the participants felt like they couldn’t control how much of the particular food they ate even if they wanted to stop.


Now I’m not going to list all 35 foods here but the link to the study is in the show notes at www.thebreastcancerrecoverycoach.com/93


But I do want to tell you the top five most addictive foods and the top five least addictive foods determined by the study.


Let’s start with the addictive ones. 

The scale these foods were rated on was from 0-7 with 7 being the most addictive.

  1. pizza (4.01)
  2. chocolate (3.73)
  3. chips (3.73)
  4. cookies (3.71)
  5. ice cream (3.68

And the top 5 least addictive:

cucumbers (1.53)

carrots (1.60)

beans (no sauce) (1.63)

apples (1.66)

brown rice (1.74)


So understanding the criteria for HPF and then hearing these two lists I’m sure you’re getting a clearer picture of the challenges around making healthy food choices.


It’s not easy because the companies that create these HPF design them to be irresistible and let’s be honest, at least some of them are delicious to most of us.


And here’s the thing. If you’re used to eating hyperpalatable foods and you try to cut them out all at once and go straight to clean, natural versions of non hpf, your brain loses its mind. It’s like what the hell are you doing. I mean let’s look at the contrast from pizza to a cucumber...come on


When did you ever unbutton your pants and sit back feeling like you were going to explode and say oh my god those cucumbers were so good I ate way too much....never...that never happens.


Your brain is not going to give you the same dopamine hit that you get from hpf foods and eventually you’re going to go on a binge. Now that won’t happen for everyone there are those cold turkey people out there and more power to you. 


But there’s a large body of behavior change science that shows most of us can’t go cold turkey.


So what can you do? 

Well, as I told the group in the sugar challenge, you have to start by taking back your power and recognizing that you are in charge of the choices you make.


Mindful eating and changing habits begins with awareness. As in the salad story I shared with you. Once I became aware of the calorie density, it’s not like I can never eat that salad again but if I do, I plan my day around it so it fits into my lifestyle and my health goals.


And that’s another step and equally as important as being mindful. 


One of my favorite coaches is Corinne Crabtree. She specializes in weight loss and her fundamental tool is planning, in fact anyone I know who has been successful with weight loss or coaches weight loss teaches planning, and how to stick to the plan. Which is all about managing the way you think.


So knowing that you live in a world of hyperpalatable foods and HPF preparation.

To create and follow a healthy nutrition plan requires awareness, mindfulness, planning and understanding how your thinking creates your habits.

If you missed the challenge this time and you’re interested in joining the next one to work on these areas and get the tools that will support changing your eating habits, you can get on the wait list at the www.thebreastcancerrecoverycoach.com/sugarchallenge.

Until that time, if you want support in getting back to life after breast cancer, come and join the free BCRG on FB where you’ll find hundreds of other survivors who get what you’re going through and are happy to support you.

Talk about the tearing down podcast and the group

Leaves review. See you next week


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