Snacking, especially drinking sodas, continues to increase among Americans, accounting for more than 25% of calorie intake each day. The amount of secondary eating and drinking–consumption while engaged in another activity–has also increased. And beverages account for 50% of the calories consumed through snacking.
But be careful what you snack on: the synthetic fat substitutes used in low-calorie potato chips and other foods could backfire and actually cause you to GAIN weight. Psychologist Susan E. Swithers says, "Our research showed that fat substitutes can interfere with the body’s ability to regulate food intake, which can lead to inefficient use of calories and weight gain." Why would a fat substitute confuse the body? Food with a sweet or fatty taste usually indicates a large number of calories, and the taste triggers various responses by the body, including salivation, hormonal secretions and metabolic reactions. Fat substitutes can interfere with that relationship when the body expects to receive a large burst of calories but is fooled by a fat substitute. This causes you to eat more than you normally would.
We are one step closer to figuring out why some stressed people indulge in chocolate, mashed potatoes, ice cream and other high-calorie, high-fat comfort foods. A mouse study suggest that ghrelin–the so-called "hunger hormone"–is involved in triggering this reaction to high stress situations. Psychiatrist Jeffrey Zigman says, “This helps explain certain complex eating behaviors and may be one of the mechanisms by which obesity develops in people exposed to psychosocial stress.
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors needed to be as calm as possible when it was time to venture out in search of food, or risk becoming dinner themselves, which is why ghrelin’s anti-depressant effects and its actions to help efficiently secure calorically-dense, tasty foods may have provided a survival advantage. Zigman says, "Though it might have been beneficial to have these actions of ghrelin linked, now it seems to be a cause of a lot of morbidity in our modern society. Ultimately, these linkages also may present a large challenge to the development of therapeutics to treat and/or prevent obesity."
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