Highly processed foods linked to addictive eating

11 June 2015

Highly processed foods linked to addictive eating

Hi fellow foodies,

This is an interesting line of research, and whilst I don't necessarily believe in the concept of food addiction, I think it is well worth looking into. Food is something we all have to eat ideally three times a day, so on some level we are all addicted to it!! True addiction, however, is known to produce certain stimulatory pathways in the brain that cause people to do things that they don't want to or know is not good for them. The other question is one of chicken or egg- ie does the fact that we do it regularly produce the stimulatory pathways to form, or do the stimulatory pathways cause us to do the act in the first place..? All very difficult questions to answer. But, hey, looking for solutions to our obesity epidemic is what we need to focus on - and I don't think anyone disagrees with that! Anyway, I wish you well on your information gathering quest and please be sure to contact me if you have questions you need answering regarding bariatric surgery, bypass, sleeve or gastric banding.

Kind regards, Steph


A University of Michigan (U-M) study has concluded that highly processed foods such as chocolate, pizza and French fries are among the most addictive. This is thought to be one of the first studies to examine specifically which foods may be implicated in ‘food addiction’, which has become of growing interest to scientists and consumers in light of the obesity epidemic.

Previous studies in animals have concluded that highly processed foods or foods with added fat or refined carbohydrates (like white flour and sugar), may be capable of triggering addictive-like eating behaviour. Clinical studies in humans have observed that some individuals meet the criteria for substance dependence when the substance is food.

Despite highly processed foods generally known to be highly tasty and preferred, it is unknown whether these types of foods can elicit addiction-like responses in humans, nor is it known which specific foods produce these responses, said Ashley Gearhardt, U-M assistant professor of psychology.

Unprocessed foods, with no added fat or refined carbohydrates like brown rice and salmon, were not associated with addictive-like eating behaviour. The study, Which Foods May Be Addictive? The Roles of Processing, Fat Content, and Glycemic Load. was published in PlosOne.

Individuals with symptoms of food addiction or with higher BMIs reported greater problems with highly processed foods, suggesting some may be particularly sensitive to the possible ‘rewarding’ properties of these foods, commented Erica Schulte, a U-M psychology doctoral student and the study's lead author.

"If properties of some foods are associated with addictive eating for some people, this may impact nutrition guidelines, as well as public policy initiatives such as marketing these foods to children," said Schulte.

Nicole Avena, assistant professor of pharmacology and systems therapeutics at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, and a co-author on the study, explained the significance of the findings.

"This is a first step towards identifying specific foods, and properties of foods, which can trigger this addictive response," she said. "This could help change the way we approach obesity treatment. It may not be a simple matter of 'cutting back' on certain foods, but rather, adopting methods used to curtail smoking, drinking and drug use."

They added that the findings “provide preliminary evidence for the foods and food attributes implicated in ‘food addiction’ and for proposed parallels between pharmacokinetic properties of drugs of abuse and highly processed foods.”

They said that future research should examine whether addictive foods are capable of triggering changes in brain circuitry and behaviour like drugs of abuse.

Bariatric surgery makes people feel better!

29 May 2015

Bariatric surgery makes people feel better!

Hi All,

This confirms something that I see evidence of everyday in my rooms!  People not only feeling physically better following weight loss surgery but also feeling happier.  It seems like a no-brainer, but it is only when quantitative, scientific research is done that you can actually claim that the benefits are real.  A patient said to me last week that "even my children have told me that I am happier and I tell them off less."  Ahh, the honesty of children.  The SF-36 is the best questionnaire that we have to measure psychological wellbeing.  It is highly accurate and can detect changes very sensitively because of the comprehensive nature of the questions.  I like research like this - it is simple, yet meaningful.  Especially to a Bariatric Surgeon!

Kind regards,




The effects of bariatric surgery are not only physical but also psychological, according to research from the National University of Distance Education (Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia), Madrid, Spain, which analysed the psychological consequences of surgery.

Dr Alejandro Magallares, a researcher at UNED, and co-author of the study, reviewed 21 scientific articles regarding the relationship between quality of life and weight (gauged with the questionnaire SF-36, which sheds light on the state of health of the person) in the obese population before (2,680 subjects) and after (2,251 subjects) undergoing this surgery.

The results reveal that obese patients scored less in the mental health component of the Short-Form 36 before bariatric surgery than after. The same pattern was observed in the case of the physical health component of the Short-Form 36. The results show the strong improvement that obese patients experience in both mental and physical components of the Short-Form 36 after receiving bariatric surgery

"An increase was found in the quality of life related to both psychological and physical aspects after the surgical intervention," said Magallares, who published a paper ‘Mental and physical health-related quality of life in obese patients before and after bariatric surgery: A meta-analysis.’ in the journal Psychology, Health & Medicine. "Both physical and psychological health improve after the operation, and that increase in quality of life is especially significant in the physical area."

Eating trends: How super are super foods

4 May 2015

Eating trends: How super are super foods

Hi Everyone,

This is quality journalism and explains in a simple, user friendly way one of the buzz words that is frequently heard in Nutrition circles at the moments - 'super-foods'.  Healthy eating is the holy grail of basic healthiness and should be pretty straight forward to achieve one would think.  However, we do get bombarded with ideas, both healthy and otherwise, to get you on the road to a better life from a dietary perspective.  I can't help but think that the old adage of 'moderation in everything' is the best dietary advice one can give, which is suitable for any situation!  That is, in fact, the beauty of weight loss surgery.  It gives patients the ability to be in control of their diet again and to start to put the moderation lifestyle into practice.  And that is where we start post surgery.  Everything is different the minute you wake up from your bypass/sleeve or band and that is the perfect opportunity to have a new and healthy start. At BetterLife Surgery we do a lot of work around 'what life is going to be like after surgery' and I think that is the key to LONGTERM success.  Just remember, diets are out, everything in moderation is in!!

Kind regards,



Raw food diets, juice detox, super foods and ancient grains - it's hard to tell what's healthy and sustainable and what's a fad.

Many foods lauded for their health benefits, like quinoa and acai berry, are imported, meaning they can be expensive and their transportation can leave a bigger carbon footprint than buying local foods.

The Herald spoke to two experts about what's good for New Zealanders' bodies, pockets and the planet.

When choosing what to eat, Plant and Food Research scientist Carolyn Lister says it's important to compare things that are nutritionally significant in a typical serving.

Turmeric, for example, may have a great nutritional profile, but few people would have more than a spoonful of the ground spice daily.

"To be nutritionally significant a food should deliver a minimum of 10 per cent of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of the particular nutrient."

For example, the RDI for calcium, in people aged 19 to 54, is 800mg. So a glass of whole milk, which contains 300mg of calcium, provides 38 per cent of RDI, while the same amount of boiled spinach contains 130mg - 16 per cent.

AUT University professor of nutrition Elaine Rush stressed the importance of eating ingredients that one's grandparents would recognise.

"My approach is to encourage people to eat combinations of real foods in sensible quantities," she said.

Emily Dowding-Smith of the Sustainable Business Network, who works to enhance access to healthy food in communities, said though many trendy "super foods" were beneficial, others less glamorous were grown in New Zealand and were therefore cheaper and more environmentally friendly.

"[Go for] less 'elite' sounding super foods, the ones that are really good for you, and can be found or grown locally in Aotearoa."

They included broccoli, kumara, spinach, kale, garlic and beetroot, she said.

Here's what our experts had to say about the health benefits and environmental impact of food types that are popular right now.

Fermented foods


Examples: Kimchi, kombucha and kefir

Kimchi. Photo / Getty ImagesKimchi. Photo / Getty Images

Carolyn Lister: "There is some scientific evidence for gut health benefits of fermented foods. Still it's an area with gaps in knowledge and more evidence is required. Like most things it's a matter of balance, and important to consider levels of salt, etc."

Emily Dowding-Smith: "Fermented foods are definitely 'trending' these days, despite being centuries old. They are relatively environmentally friendly - mainly [involving] growing cabbage and eating it in small quantities for kimchi, with spices added - and for kombucha and kefir, they are rather affordable to make. Overall, they are quite low-impact and low-cost. I'd add sauerkraut to this list along with other cheap, fermented veges."

Ancient grains and seeds


Examples: Quinoa, chia, millet and amaranth


Carolyn Lister: "A lot of this is about the anti-wheat trend. Lots of people are saying they're intolerant to wheat gluten when they're not. It is really important to have a good intake of whole grains, and some of the benefits of different types are similar [to wheat] but there are differences, for example, in the amount of protein. It's great that if people aren't eating wheat, they do have other whole grains. It's especially important in terms of fibre."

Emily Dowding-Smith: "Considerations for these products, like any from abroad, is the story of food - how it is grown and whether the environment and people who made it are treated well. Third-party certification can aid with this, such as Fair Trade certification. The downside of these foods from an accessibility perspective is that they tend to be more expensive in supermarkets in New Zealand. Oats are grown in New Zealand and can be grown organically. This is a wholesome food, and a cheap and filling alternative to expensive imported grains."

Milk alternatives


Examples: Soy and rice milks and nut milks

Almond milk.Almond milk.

Carolyn Lister: "The different milks will vary in their composition. They are more processed than cows' milk, of course ... It is hard to generalise but some of these other milks do have sugar or salt added to help with flavour. Rice milk probably has the lowest nutrient value of the milks, unless vitamins and minerals are added, and has almost no natural protein."

She said there was some evidence of benefits of nut milks, but they did not have as extensive a range of nutrients as cows' milk, and had lower protein.

"Soy milk is a bit controversial as there's mixed evidence around benefits and negatives of soy phytoestrogens. It's higher in some B vitamins but doesn't have the natural calcium, and in some cases has sugar added."

Emily Dowding-Smith: "Most of these products in New Zealand supermarkets come from Australia or further afield, again because we don't grow such large amounts of nuts, soy and rice in New Zealand due to our climate and agricultural focus. Environmentally it's an interesting one. The nut and seed milk products are quite processed and packaged. Sadly in New Zealand we can't recycle TetraPak. Therefore all the UHT and nut milk packages go to landfill here." She said there was less of an environmental impact from growing plants than dairy farming, so a good alternative was for people to make their own New Zealand-grown hazelnut milk.



Examples: Turmeric, cocoa, kale and berries


Carolyn Lister: "With turmeric, there is scientific evidence for some health benefits but the question is how much may be needed to have a benefit. There is quite a lot of scientific evidence for a range of health benefits of cocoa - which is due to the high levels of particular flavonoids. The issue with cocoa is that the amount needed to have benefit may be quite bitter (chocolate needs to be 85 per cent cocoa). It's also a matter of balancing the fat and sugar consumption. There is truth to the mainstream benefits of kale. It is one of the most nutrient-packed vegetables. I do know that some places make all sorts of exaggerated claims about detox that are not based on scientific fact.

"The benefits of some berries like goji and acai are exaggerated - for example, I often see companies comparing values for dried goji with fresh blueberries. Fresh and frozen berries are more likely to retain some nutrients than dried products. Normal berries are just as good in many cases, and sometimes better. Blackcurrants and boysenberries have high levels of flavonoids including anthocyanins that give them their red-purple colour. We are finding the particular combination of nutrients and phytochemicals in each fruit may impart different health benefits, so blueberries may be good for the brain, blackcurrants for sports recovery and cranberries for urinary tract health. This reinforces the importance of a balanced diet with a variety of different foods."

Emily Dowding-Smith:"Turmeric grows well in the Pacific Islands, like Fiji, and is not that far away from New Zealand - it also supports the economy of a sister island." She said the fresh root could be bought relatively inexpensively and could last a long time.

"Cocoa must come from areas where the plants grow - mainly the tropics - and is therefore imported. Traceability is a big issue for cocoa and we're therefore seeing an increase in fair trade of organic products so prices are starting to come down. Kale grows well all over New Zealand and is cheap and easy enough to grow to feed families. Goji and acai berries are imported and quite specialty foods from South America."

Carolyn Lister is a research leader at the New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research.

Emily Dowding-Smith has a background in resource management and environ-mental law and science. She works at the Sustainable Business Network.

Farewell pizza and hello to health


It was an epiphany after eating a meat-lovers pizza that inspired Jamie-Lee Smith to go vegan in October 2012.

Now, the 27-year-old carefully maintains a balanced and varied diet to ensure she gets enough of the nutrients that would otherwise come from meat and dairy - like iron, protein and calcium.

"For as long as I can remember, I had a blocked or running nose, I would always feel tired and I suffered from depression," she said.

Ms Smith said though she never felt great after eating even normal amounts of meat and cheese, she couldn't resist the deliciousness. But one day, post-pizza, she realised she was putting the taste ahead of her own wellbeing.

"I decided to try eating vegan the next day and have never looked back. I now think about all the nutrients my body needs and try to fit as much in as I possibly can.

"I have a list of essential nutrients on my phone and all the foods that I personally like that are high in them.

"I've also figured out how to 'treat myself' in a way that's not detrimental to my waistline or to animals.

"'Pulled pork' tacos are pretty cool. They're made from jackfruit - a huge fleshy fruit from Southeast Asia.

"All my treat foods are jam-packed with veges."

Ms Smith is now a much healthier weight and says she is no longer lethargic and has taken up exercise. Her nose is rarely blocked and she has seen a huge improvement in her mood.

The change has had a positive impact on her pocket, too.

"It's way cheaper. I do 90 per cent of my shop in the produce section."

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