Food Flavor and Brain Chemistry

Our Taste Buds and Brain Chemistry have been Conquered

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One prominent non-nutritious additive that has overtaken our food supply is chemically synthesized sweeteners. These low cost sweeteners, made from genetically modified, government subsidized corn, have replaced crystalline sugar made from cane and beets and been injected into nearly every processed food we eat. They are cheaper, sweeter, and chemically altered to not decompose like sugar and syrups do.

Sugar causes the brain to release beta endorphins, which acts like morphine. The extra sweetness of the chemically altered corn sweeteners, particularly high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) results in an even stronger release of beta endorphins making it almost impossible to resist eating and drinking more. American’s consumption of HFCS went from nothing in 1970 to over 50 pounds a year and a total of over 115 pounds year of addictive corn sweeteners in 2008.

American consumption of sweeteners

Not only does our brain chemistry change after ingesting chemically altered corn sweeteners, our bodies process them differently than other sugar changing the mechanisms of how calories are related to weight gain. A research team at Princeton University recently demonstrated that rats fed High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) gained significantly more weight than rats fed crystalline sucrose, even when their overall calorie intake was the same. In addition to causing significant weight gain, long-term consumption of HFCS also led to abnormal increases in body fat, especially in the abdomen, and a rise in triglycerides. A second experiment compared rats eating only rat chow to rats on a diet rich in HFCS for 6 months. The male rats ballooned in size and the rat eating HFCS gained 48% more weight than those eating a normal diet. The rats eating HFCS showed signs of “metabolic syndrome”, including abnormal weight gain, significant increases in triglycerides and fat around the belly.

The food industry has gone far beyond meddling with our brains and taste buds with sugar and salt. Scientists have dissected our taste sensations: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, umami and some claim the taste of fat. Bio technology companies and universities have created a huge assortment of chemicals that simulate aromas and tastes. They have studied the way that flavor molecules fit into taste bud receptors causing electrical changes that transmit messages to the brain through our nervous system. These compounds have names like: fenchyl alcohol, gamma-lactones, macrocyclic lactones, gamma-hexalatone, itaconic acid, glucono delta lactone, and pyrogallic acid and are added to foods and cosmetics to cover unpleasant tastes and smells and stimulate our taste sensations. The manipulations of our taste receptors enables food producers to change the content or quality of a food product without having any change in the taste. The use of chemical compounds to modify the flavor, smell, and consistency of food has enabled fast food companies to offer low-cost replacements for meats, cheeses, and breads on dollar-menu offerings.

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FURTHER READING

  1. Princeton research on high fructose corn syrup
  2. Sugar Addiction
  3. USDA Sugar Imports
  4. US News article: “Mercury Found in High Fructose Corn Syrup”
  5. Corn refiners association
  6. Society of Flavor Chemists

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