With the Thanksgiving feast now reduced to composted leftovers and the month-long year-end celebration of indulgence ahead of us, it should come as no big surprise to most that there’s a reason we humans have such a shortage of dietary willpower when it comes to all those sweets and goodies on the seasonal menu. Consider, for instance, chocolate.
Deep, rich dark or creamy light, chocolate is one of those indulgent ‘comfort food’ items humans find it very difficult to avoid. All chocolate derives from cocoa, which has recently been found to offer cardioprotective benefits – if the sugar in it doesn’t end up making us obese first, that is. The specific agent for protection of the heart from low oxygen levels is epicatechin, a flavonoid and antioxidant in cocoa. Epicatechin acts by binding to opioid receptors in our nervous system.
Opioid? As in opium? That’s right, opium. No wonder we often consider a fondness for chocolate to be akin to an addiction… it IS addictive! And the substance used to treat opium addictions – naloxone, which preemptively binds to opium receptors – has been shown to reduce cravings for chocolate.
It may be more surprising that many – or even most – of our most popular foods and additives also bind to opioid receptors, and some even stimulate our brains to release natural endorphins to stimulate a narcotic pleasure response. These ‘food opiates’ are found most heavily concentrated in wheat (5 separate gluten exorphins) and dairy products, but all three forms of sugar – glucose, sucrose and fructose – also act on opioid receptors and can elicit addictive behaviors. Even worse, we humans begin our addiction early in life – human breast milk, in fact, contains actual morphine!
Sayer Ji explains all this in an excellent article for Wake Up World, Do Hidden Opiates In Our Food Explain Food Addictions? Compiling a list of common foods found by researchers to contain substances that either bind to opioid receptors or stimulate the production of endogenous morphines, we find that meat and fish proteins are broken down by digestion into opioid substances, as does the albumin in rice. Spinach contains two opioid peptides, and the oil cafestrol in both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee contains potent morphine-like binders.
Do check Ji’s article and try to bear in mind the whys and wherefores of food cravings as we move into the craving-saturating holiday season. You never know, an understanding of how and why these cravings exist and seem so difficult to overcome by sheer willpower just might help make our January withdrawals a little easier to tolerate. Though shedding the extra pounds gained from early winter indulgences will still be as difficult as it’s ever been. Good luck with that, and good feasting to all the readers of Wise Living Journal!