So we have our biology, genetics, upbringing, environment and emotions as potential drivers for various food cravings. But did you know the bacteria in your gut can also determine your food cravings? The average person has approximately 1.5 kilograms of bacteria in their gut. These bacteria send signals to the brain via the brain-gut axis and can impact our behaviour and health. There is growing evidence to support the role of these important bacteria in influencing our cravings for certain foods.
Research has shown that mice bred in germ-free environments prefer more sweets and have greater number of sweet taste receptors in their gut compared to normal mice. Additionally, many gut bacteria can produce proteins that are very similar to hormones such as peptide YY and ghrelin that regulate hunger. This suggests that our gut bacteria (or “gut microbiota”) may influence our eating behaviour through peptides that mimic hunger-regulating hormones.
Targeted probiotic and prebiotic use is likely to become more common as we better understand how gut microbiota influence our bodily How many times have you heard someone say, “I’m addicted to (insert culprit food)?” Whether or not true food addiction truly exists is still open to debate.
Sugar stimulates the release of opiates, which makes you feel good, and this has been demonstrated in experiments with rats. Opiates in turn stimulate your appetite for more sugar. Give rats enough sugar, and they become reliant on it. The same mechanism occurs in addictions to cocaine, in both rats and humans. When you take away sugar, animals exhibit anxiety and other signs of withdrawal.
Is this addiction? Have you seen anyone sell their baby or commit murder for more sugar?
Whether or not ‘addiction’ is the right word, the compulsion to continually seek out certain foods can be very painful. Rather than completely avoiding the drug-like high you get from chocolate and ‘ just say no’ (pure deprivation), it may be more realistic to slightly shift your chocolate tastes by including dark chocolate, seeking out the highest quality Belgian stuff, or making your own from organic ingredients.
Unlike other addictions where we are told to give it up, we can’t stop eating! On the contrary, I think we should celebrate natural wholefood that makes us feel good. How do you know if your food ‘addiction’ needs to be addressed? Start by asking, “Is my sugar/fat/salt/caffeine habit causing me harm?”
It’s important for us to to relearn how to enjoy food and eating without being constantly dogged by the need for more.