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What Causes Cravings: The Truth About Salt, Fat and Sugar

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For the past several months, a book called Salt, Fat, Sugar: How the Food Giants Hooked Ushas been hailed as a masterpiece of work in the fight against obesity and illness in the Western world. I haven’t read the book and quite frankly I have no intentions to after hearing the author in several interviews. While I am no fan of fast food or big food  and appreciate his effort in trying to curb the alarming rate at which people are gaining weight and getting sick, Michael Moss appears to be part of the problem instead of the solution.

Listening to Mr. Moss discuss the evils of salt, fat and sugar, one would be left to think that so long as one avoids those food components they would be in perfect health. Mr. Moss does not appear to know the difference between a real fat and those used to cook McDonald’s french fries. He also seems to think that all salts are the same. And most appalling is that he also does not seem to know that both salt and fat are actually necessary nutrients for maintaining homeostasis, heart health, joint health and more.

So let’s look at why we crave these flavors:

Salt makes foods taste good for a reason. It is not a betrayal of your taste buds in an attempt to break your body down before its time. In fact, most any practitioner who has worked with the elderly will tell you that the loss of taste for salt will lead to loss of appetite in general as well as wasting and eventually an early death. Our drive to eat salt is a biological necessity. As I have mentioned, is a necessary nutrient. Salt plays an integral role in maintaining fluid balance throughout the cells of the body, most importantly in the kidneys where it is exchanged with potassium to keep you alive. Try drinking plain water without salt on a hot day and you are likely to faint or even go into a coma. Additionally, the chloride in salt is a necessary component in hydrochloric acid — the stomach acid that helps us to digest our food. Without it, food allergies and intolerances develop.

That said, not just any salt will do. The types of salts that are present in factory made food and regular table salt is an adulteration of the salt that is naturally occurring in the ocean. Instead, opt for natural sea salts and mined salts. These are far superior and in fact actually taste very different from conventional salts you may be accustomed to. You can read more about the right salts to consume and how to consume them in my book Drowning in 8 Glasses.

So what about fat? Fats are so important — again to every cell in your body — that it isn’t even funny. For someone like Moss to vilify fat by repeating bad science is simply irresponsible. Fats are vitally important to brain, heart, reproductive, joint skin, lung, digestive health and more. Show me someone with wrinkles and sagging skin and I’ll show you someone who avoids animal fats in favor of vegetable oils. Just like with salt, we crave fat because we need it. Our DNA demands it.

Tribal societies know that the fattiest part of an animal is the most nutrient dense and therefore will often eat the entrails and fatty parts first to ensure their own health and that of future generations. The episode of No Reservationswhere Anthony Bourdain ate the intestines and cheeks of a wart hog is a perfect example of the value of animal fats. Without adequate animal fat, many nutrients including fat soluble vitamins and minerals cannot be used and neither can the so-called good fats from foods avocados, flax and cod liver oils.

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An increasing number of researchers are realizing that the lack of fats is playing a major role in the autism epidemic, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, arthritis, cancer, IBS and many other disorders including obesity. Without the kinds of fats our human bodies have thrived on since the beginning of time, our bodies perceive famine and are simply unprepared to try and make what it needs out of modern diets that are loaded with anti-Foods (canola, soy, corn and other fake oils) that were not part of our evolution into rationally thinking beings.

Although fast food is often cited as being loaded with animal fat, the opposite is true. Fast food chains and most restaurants (even expensive restaurants) use the cheapest, most rancid oils on the market in the interest of saving money. A few, like vegan restaurants, will do it under the guise of it being healthier. Unfortunately, these are much worse. An interesting fact to note is that the ill effects of these cheap vegetable oils can virtually be reversed by consuming more butter, lard and other animal fats!

So now the sugar. This is actually the one part of the equation that Moss gets right — sort of. True, sugar is actually the one flavor that we can live without, but like many, he didn’t seem to understand that eating copious amounts of fruits eventually becomes as injurious to health as refined sugar or more precisely high fructose corn syrup!

Don’t get me wrong, fruit can be very healthful, but following his confused advice and similar advice from others, many people believe that they are not consuming sugar when they eat fruit or drink fruit juice. I often see people eating 4 or 5 pieces of very sugary fruit in one day every day and chasing it with juice. When diabetes or obesity set in, they cannot figure out how they got that way and chalk it up to heredity. Sugar is the main food of cancer. Its consumption is associated with many other diseases as well including arthritis, osteoporosis, yeast overgrowth, and much, much more. Fruit just like refined sugars are best consumed in relatively small amounts next to the rest of the diet.

So why do we crave sugar if we don’t need it? Because in avoiding the other necessary foods, our body needs a way to satisfy brain chemicals. Since sugar (whether in the form of fruit or cake) gets a relative free ride in the psyche of the American public, it is really the only food group left when we are told to avoid animal foods and salt, which is typically used in the preparation of many animal foods. And the high people get from eating sugar closely mimics the good feeling your brain gets when eating animal foods. So denial of necessary foods leads to overconsumption of permitted foods even if our bodies really don’t need them.

Once we understand this phenomenon, it is easy to see how people become alcoholics and drug addicts. In fact, I would say that sugar is likely the gateway drug to harder drugs and certainly alcoholism. Former alcoholics know that their sugar consumption drastically increases if the link between sugar and alcohol isn’t recognized and nipped in the bud. If it isn’t, they are more likely to fall off the wagon. Sugar is highly addictive!

Many people believe that it is inherently built into our DNA to want sweets. Many sugar-addicted moms will talk about how sweet breast milk is. In fact, what they don’t realize is that their babies have been getting high doses of sugar in the womb and if mom eats a lot of sugar or fruit, the baby is going to taste that in the breast milk too. Additionally, many children at an early age will gravitate towards sour flavors, not sweet. But parents and grandparents remember a time in their lives when sugar was special and literally force their children to eat sugar telling them that “they’ll like it” and that they won’t like sucking on a lemon.

There is no doubt that the fast food industry has conspired against us with synthetic flavors that are made to taste like the foods we are most attached to either biologically or because we have been forced to by excluding the ones our bodies really want. But to lump all salt, fat and sugar into one category is a disservice to the public at large. A wiser approach would be to discern those created in a lab from those raised from the ground up. Only then can we make the wisest of decisions.

So there you have it. My review of an interview about a book I never intend to read and my explanations for why you crave what you do in a nutshell. What are your cravings and what do you do about them?


About Adrienne Hew

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Adrienne Hew is a Certified Nutritionist and the Nutrition Heretic Podcast Host, but is best known online as an author of the Amazon Top 100 Bestseller 50 Ways to Eat Cock: Healthy Chicken Recipes with Balls! Receiving a certificate in Chinese dietetics in 2002 and her degree as a Certified Nutritionist in 2004, she has helped many clients and workshop attendees to decode their own health dilemmas by understanding the inconsistencies in conventional nutritional dogma. She currently resides in Hawaii with her husband and two children.