Food and pleasure. Is there life after giving up the cheese sandwiches?

Posted by & filed under Health and Fitness.

Crikey, I should think the young man’s dopamine was through the roof by the time he finally got his ice-cream.  I had an interesting conversation with someone after my class where I’d broken the jolly news to them that wheat turns the abs off.  Always a joyful event. The poor woman confessed to having IBS and had gone gluten free, found she had to go dairy free as well (this is completely normal), and was finding it all a bit much.  ‘After all,’ she cried,’ what else is there to eat??’  I love food!’  And I love food too, but haven’t eaten wheat or dairy for years – and no longer eat sugar or fruit either.  It is very difficult within a short conversation to explain why giving up problem foods seems to present such a challenge.  After all, I think few would find it challenging to give up the sprouts.  So here are a few pointers to explain why the thought of life without ice-cream or cheese sandwiches seems so bleak.

  • When we eat wheat (rye or barley), we are eating a grass and our digestive system is not designed to cope with eating grass.
  • Eating wheat regularly presents our guts with a tremendous challenge and for various reasons, the guts start to break down (see my forthcoming wheat book for more details…), large proteins leak through the gut wall and cause havoc, at the very least, inflammation.
  • As a response the body produces impressively strong anti-inflammatories of the opioid family, and so we get an opium like kick when we eat a bacon sandwich.  If, instead, we eat the bacon but with no bread, we still satisfy our hunger, but lack the pleasurable high.  Just bacon seems rather boring.  However, after eating said sandwich, our belly bloats, and our brain fogs up.  Not so good, hey?  Time for a biscuit to give ourselves a bit of a pick-up.
  • Which brings us onto the other great food addiction – sugar.  This week’s Scientific American 1carries a piece about food addiction, concentrating on sugar.  So far, a pair of scientists2  have discovered that when we eat sugar – which is universally loved by most mammals, including humans, other primates and rodents –  a pleasure loving hot-spot in the brain lights up and a “pair of intoxicating neurotransmitters cooperate to enhance feeling of pleasure”.  A sweet taste prompts a neuron to release enkephalin, another opioid, this time made in the brain.  Enkephalin reacts with receptors on a “neighboring neuron, potentially triggering production of anandamide, the brain’s version of marijuana“.  No wonder we all love sugar.
  • So a biscuit is fantastic – wheaty, therefore opium; sweet, therefore opium and weed and fatty all in one mouthful – yum yum.
  • A brief word about dopamine – this is the neurotransmitter of desire.  Eating something delicious will not affect dopamine.  However, having something delicious waved about under your nose most certainly will.
  • Finally, dairy.  The protein in cows and sheeps milk is also very hard to digest and causes digestive distress when eaten on a regular basis.  There is a difference between milk/yoghurt and cheese.  Milk contains lactose, an enzyme which we can digest when babies, but can’t when we are weaned. Also pasteurised, homogenised milk is quite horrendous to eat, entirely lacking in natural enzymes to help digestion and give us health.   Click on the linked blog.  Cheese contains casein, a protein presenting real digestive challenges and also opium producing to quell resultant inflammation.
  • So life without gluten and dairy and sugar is life without a kick.  But I can assure you that food remains delicious and pleasurable.  You just don’t get so fat, you feel less tired, your abs are slimmer without it and you remain in control of what you eat. But then life without alcohol, for an alcoholic, means getting out of bed without a hangover, having a clear mind through the day, never waking up unable to remember what you got up to last night, never stumbling about making an absolute fool of yourself.
  • And so giving up destructive foods can be every bit as hard as giving up smoking or drinking or gambling.  The destructive powers of those three are well known.  Profits would suffer if we all found out about the destructive powers of sugar, gluten and dairy.
  1. Aug 2012.  Vol 307, no.2 []
  2. Morten L Kingelbach and Kent C Berridge []

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)