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Fatty foods trigger body’s marijuana-like chemicals

Consumer Reports News: July 05, 2011 05:08 PM

Ever wonder why it’s so hard to control yourself when you’re eating fatty foods like potato chips and French fries? Maybe it’s because fats in such foods trigger the release of marijuana-like chemicals called endocannabinoids that drives us to eat them, according to research published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers fed rats Vanilla Ensure, a corn oil beverage, a sugar solution, and a protein-rich liquid called peptone, and measured the production of endocannabinoids in the small intestine. They found that the fatty diet triggered the production of endocannabinoids, but the sugars and proteins did not. The trigger starts when the food hits the tongue, where fats in food generate a signal that travels first to the brain and then through a nerve bundle called the vagus to the intestines.

The authors say the findings suggest that it may one day be possible to curb people’s tendencies to overeat and prevent obesity by using drugs to obstruct endocannabinoid activity.

Bottom line: The findings in the study are promising—but the “endocannabinoids made me do it” excuse will have to wait until there’s further research using human participants.

To quiet your inner “feed me greasy goodness” voice, choose foods made with good-for-you fats, such as olive oil and canola. Skip processed snacks—choose a baked potato over potato chips and low-fat or nonfat yogurt over ice cream. Skip chips and cookies, and aim for fresh and dried fruits, veggies, baked tortilla chips, and other low-fat snacks.

See our tips on how to eat a healthy diet, and if you’re trying to take off a few pounds, check out our recently updated diet Ratings.

Endocannabinoid signal in the gut controls dietary fat intake [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences]

Ginger Skinner

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