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As if you needed another reason to avoid ultra-processed foods, here’s a doozy.
We’re not just talking about canned or frozen foods that have been minimally altered by removal of inedible parts, drying, crushing, roasting, boiling, freezing or pasteurization, to make them safe to store and eat later.
Ultra-processed foods are made up from substances extracted from foods, such as fats, starches, added sugars and hydrogenated fats. They’re filled with additives we can’t pronounce, including emulsifiers that make them artificially smooth and creamy, not to mention artificial colors, flavors and stabilizers.
It wasn’t too long ago that I wrote here about the strong correlation between these foods and both obesity and cancer.
But if you need another reason to avoid this fake food, here’s some news about what it does to your ability to control overeating…
Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Astrocytes are star-shaped cells in the brain that express receptors for hormones and metabolic factors — including ghrelin, which signals hunger, and its counterpart, leptin, which signals fullness.
In tests on rats, scientists found that after longer periods of being fed a diet high in fat and calories, the signaling pathway between the brain and the gut apparently gets disrupted, no longer regulating calorie consumption.
“Over time, astrocytes seem to desensitize to the high-fat food,” says Kirsteen Browning, a professor of neural and behavioral science at Penn State College of Medicine.
“We have yet to find out whether the loss of astrocyte activity and the signaling mechanism is the cause of overeating or that it occurs in response to the overeating”
But they did find out how much ultra-processed food it would take before the astrocyte signaling pathway malfunctioned…
They found that only 10 to 14 days on an ultra-processed diet was enough to make astrocytes lose their ability to regulate calorie intake.
Not only that, but this also disrupts signaling to the stomach and delays how the stomach empties.
As mentioned above, we still aren’t sure whether eating too much fat makes astrocytes stop regulating intake, or whether astrocytes stop functioning and cause overeating.
Either way, it appears that about a week of frozen pizzas, chicken nuggets and other ultra-processed favorites seems to be enough to convince your brain that it should just keep eating more of the stuff.
Gaining control back
Regardless of whether too much fat from processed foods or an astrocyte dysfunction is to blame, ultimately the brain’s ability to regulate hunger hormones becomes dismantled.
Leptin is made by fat cells. The more body fat someone has, the more leptin they have in their bloodstream. So you’d think the signals would come through loud and clear to stop taking in more calories.
But according to obesity expert Mary Dallman, Ph.D., from the University of California at San Francisco, obese people may build up resistance to the appetite-suppressing effects of leptin.
It likely starts when the astrocytes, as the current study has shown, become desensitized.
If you think about it, this is similar to what happens in the case of insulin resistance. With every spike in blood sugar, the pancreas pumps out more insulin to convert that to energy and get it into cells. But when sugar spike after sugar spike keeps coming, the cells stop responding — becoming resistant to all the insulin the pancreas is releasing to keep up.
A couple of years ago, I wrote about how to stop dieting and eat more to live better. And it sounds like that could be the best way to avoid the destruction of our hunger hormones by ultra-processed food. The secret starts, of course with ditching the ultra-processed foods and eating the right stuff. Read how, here.
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Why a high fat diet could reduce the brain’s ability to regulate food intake The Physiological Society