Nutrition Expert Provides New Ammunition for Fast-Food Lawsuits
New Book Shows Food Really Is Physically Addictive; Chocolate, Cheese, Meat, and Sugar Act Like Drugs
WASHINGTON—A provocative new book by nutrition researcher Neal Barnard, M.D., presents biochemical evidence that America’s obsession with certain unhealthy foods stems more from physical addiction than a lack of willpower.
In the book, Dr. Barnard reports on recently conducted but previously unpublicized studies, showing that cheese, chocolate, sugar, and meat all spark the release of opiate-like substances that trigger the brain’s pleasure center, making these foods so hard to resist. Breaking the Food Seduction (St. Martin’s Press, June 2003) is expected to bolster the case of the new fast-food lawsuits seeking redress for America’s obesity and diabetes epidemics. The book also includes new information proving that industry has purposefully manipulated our tastes for unhealthy foods.
“Until now, Big Food has tried to defend itself from Big Tobacco-like lawsuits by arguing that unhealthy foods, unlike cigarettes, are not addictive. Ever since the first fast-food lawsuit was filed last summer, industry has argued that customers who get suckered into high-fat meals—like cheeseburgers and shakes—have only themselves to blame for their health problems,” says Neal Barnard, M.D. “But it’s high time we stopped blaming ourselves and recognized there’s a real physiological reason we feel inexplicably drawn to these foods.”
Cheese, for example, is loaded with casein, a protein that breaks up during digestion to produce morphine-like opiate compounds called casomorphins. These substances are thought to contribute to the mother-infant bond that occurs during nursing. A cup of milk contains about six grams of casein, and skim milk contains a little more, but casein becomes even more concentrated in the production of cheese. So it’s no surprise that many of us feel bonded to our pizzas. Chocolate, sugar, and meat work in slightly different ways, but they all release drug-like substances that seduce the brain into coming back for more.
In addition to explaining the biochemistry behind food cravings, Dr. Barnard also reveals how Big Food—often aided by government—has intentionally manipulated the addictive qualities of its products. For example, the chapter on cheese includes FOIA-obtained information proving that the USDA-sponsored marketing promotions focused on “triggering the cheese craving.” And the chapter on chocolate reveals how industry scientists have labored to find exactly the right balance of fat and sugar to keep us hooked.
Breaking the Food Seduction: The Hidden Reasons Behind Food Cravings and Seven Steps to End Them Naturally by Neal Barnard, M.D., is published by St. Martin’s Press (June 2003). In addition to its research and policy focuses, the book offers a three-week vegetarian diet and exercise program that helps people block their cravings for unhealthy foods.
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.