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Potato Chips: The New Gateway Drug?
I thought of her with guilt last week, while I was tipping a package of peanut M&M's into my mouth (what? It was a rough week), and with enormous respect today when I read about a new study that explains the addictive power of high-fat foods. To measure how taste alone affects the body's response to food, scientists from California and Italy fed different groups of rats liquid diets high in one of these three substances: fat, sugar or protein. As soon as the fatty liquid hit the rats' taste buds, their digestive systems began producing endocannabinoids, chemicals similar to those produced by marijuana use, and these rats showed a craving for more fatty food.
Fat is necessary for proper cell functioning, one of the study authors told The New York Times, explaining that "we have this evolutionary drive to recognize fat, and when we have access to it, to consume as much as we possibly can." The problem is our prehistoric ancestors weren't out hunting deep-fried Twinkies, so we've got to outsmart these biological impulses.
I personally find the study reassuring. If we accept that most of us don't have the same snack-mastery--call it willpower, or fortitude, or discipline--as my old friend, and if we acknowledge that one high-fat potato chip will probably lead to a binge, we may be more likely to think twice about indulging at all. Or at least, to save the benders for when we really, really need them.