What makes sugar, oil, and salt dangerously addictive for some of us?

Sugar, oil and salt – they’re everywhere in our foods. It may seem like it’s impossible to have delicious and appetizing foods without using those ingredients.

Many people think that it’s easy to simply consume sugar, oil and salt moderately and for some, it is possible… but for many others, this isn’t the case.

Why? What makes sugar, oil, and salt dangerously addictive for some of us?

Join Dr. Frank Sabatino as he explains the science behind how we get hooked on sugar, oil, and salt… and what we can do about it.



Chef AJ:

The SOS contributes to what people think are emotional eating. Because when you take away the stimulation, it really seems to dial everything down.

Dr. Frank Sabatino:

It’s really all about triggering. It’s all about triggers and triggers are very real because what happens is we, when you do any behavior, you make any choice. And in this case, let’s suppose it’s a pleasurable choice. We know that, for example, there’s a cascade of waterfall of chemistry that’s released in the brain. And the end point of that waterfall is the action of the transmitter called dopamine.

But dopamine is only the endpoint. The pathway to dopamine activation is a whole series of transmitters in different parts of the brain. And interestingly enough, one part of the brain that’s tied into that reward cascade – it’s called the brain reward cascade – is a part of the brain that’s associated with memory because in an evolutionary sense, let’s take sexuality. If you have a sexual experience and it’s pleasurable and you need to have sex to promote the propagation of the species, you’re going to remember that event and the chances are that you’re going to participate in that behavior more and more and that’s going to ensure that the population will go forward.

So, the body has a way of remembering, again, very pleasurable experiences that can be associated with an improvement in evolution and survival. Okay? So that’s built into the brain.

The problem is when you create abnormal triggers, whether it’s drugs or whether it’s behaviors, what we call, you know, the addictions that center around, even things like shopping and internet and all of that, what are called process addictions. The same mechanism still operates. You still have a memory of a pleasurable experience. You still have a brain reward cascade, but now it’s associated with things that are not in your best interest. And so, the bottom line is that process still plays.

So, one of the works, one of the big jobs that has to happen in all addictive processes is you’ve got to allow that process to extinguish for things that don’t have that survival value. In addiction, your brain is telling your body that if you don’t have that heroin, you cannot survive. So, your body begins to believe that heroin is linked to your survival. And what do you think you’re going to do when you make that connection? You’re going to keep doing it.

Well, if you do that with foods, a lot of those triggers create that addictive quality that’s associated with memory and patterning in the brain that’s feeding you the information that when you have it, you get to a place where you start to believe that, that pleasure part of your brain hijacks the intellectual part of your brain so that you’re not thinking clearly. You’re not making that intellectual judgment, you’re just reacting in a survival way to these triggering foods, whether they be oils and salts and sugars, and the like, and it’s going to program you to repeat that behavior.

So, we know, for example, I mentioned the other day, you know, the principles of this lifestyle are not rocket science. They’re not that complicated. We know that if you move more or you eat better, or you sleep more and all of that, and you improve your relationships, you know, you’re going to be healthier, but there’s a big gap for us between that intellectual understanding and the practical ability to do it because we have created that constellation of factors in the brain that are triggering behavior sometimes for things that are not in our best interest.

So, when you go SOS-free, in a way you’re removing those triggers, you’re allowing the patterning of the brain to now be satisfied with the foods that are really now in your best interest. And you’ve got a great chance on breaking that pattern of food addiction or compulsive food use.

So, I agree, you can be very successful eating a small amount of those foods with a plant-based diet. You could be successful in a plant-based diet, eating processed foods that have sugar and salt and so on. But if you really want to get at the mindset on a deep neurological level that shifts that pattern of response, you’ve got to get the triggers out because you can’t go up to a heroin addict and say, you know what, I want you to shoot a $3 bag rather than a $5 bag. It’s less heroin, but it’s only going to reinstate the process.

That’s why the statement in the field of addiction is “once a pickle, never a cucumber again.” You can’t unpickle a pickle to bring it back to a cucumber. So, when you’ve gotten to that place of addictive behavior, you in a way have to put those things aside for maybe a very extended period, or maybe for the rest of your life, you can’t go back and drinking alcohol and doing this and that on a simple level with these food issues.

Yeah, you’re getting rid of triggers and you’re allowing the brain to re-establish a balance and kind of a normal state of pleasure for things that are in your best interest for survival. So, it’s an interesting process across the board.

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