Harvard Nutritionist: 4 Toxic Food Ingredients That ‘Actually Make You Hungrier’ and ‘Hijack Your Brain’ Eat This Instead

Unbeknownst to many people, the foods we buy contain many lurking toxic additives. That means they’ve been altered in ways that actually make you hungrier and hijack your brain to make your emotional eating habits worse.

As a Harvard-trained nutritionist, I always remind people to read food labels. Of course, you don’t need to completely avoid some additives. But moderation can do your body a whole world of good.

1. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

Added to many flavored foods, MSG antagonizes your pancreas into making it make more insulin, a hormonal cascade that makes you feel hungrier.

MSG has been linked to diabetes and obesity and is even considered an excitotoxin, which can cause brain cells to become overexcited and then fire uncontrollably, potentially leading to cell death.

2. Refined flour

The word “refined” in flour refers to a modification process in which the bran and germ are removed, allowing the products to stay on the shelves longer. But it also removes naturally occurring vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber.

More refined flour, mostly white flour, rapidly spikes blood sugar levels, spiking insulin levels and then crashing them.

This reaction makes you hungry very quickly, which explains why you might feel like eating again right after eating a bagel or a slice of toast.

3. Refined sugar

White sugar acts on the body much like refined flour does. It sends your blood sugar through the roof and then crashes a short time later, intensifying your sugar cravings.

Once you start eating it, it can be hard to stop. Sugar can make you feel high briefly (as in “on a drug”) and creates a spark of energy in your body due to the dopamine release it brings.

A particularly vile form of refined sugar is high fructose corn syrup. Put in sodas, commercial juices and other beverages, as well as packaged foods, it disrupts normal metabolism.

Studies have found that this additive slows the release of leptin, or the “I’m full” hormone.

4. Gluten

Back to white bread: Another reason it makes you hungry is its gluten content. Gluten is a wheat protein that is often found in processed foods.

It can be highly inflammatory in some groups of people due to its sugar-like properties when refined, and it is also irritating to the intestines.

A good rule of thumb is to avoid gluten-containing products for a month. See how you feel and notice if you have better control of your cravings.

Personally, gluten was a hidden food sensitivity for me, and I do better without it. Due to the low nutritional value of most grains, they should only be a small part of our diet anyway.

Polyphenols are a type of micronutrient that contains health-promoting properties. They are important in cleaning out our bloodstream and toxins, and are vital in controlling hunger and cravings for unhealthy foods full of additives.

Here are some of my favorite foods that are high in polyphenols:

  • Avocado
  • Berries
  • Broccoli
  • Cherries
  • Chili Peppers
  • Citrus fruits
  • Coffee
  • Flax seed
  • Dark chocolate
  • Garlic
  • Legumes
  • Mangoes
  • Peanuts
  • Olives
  • Onions
  • Oregano, as well as many other herbs and spices (choose organic if you can to avoid pesticide residue)
  • Pumpkin
  • Spinach
  • Green tea

Polyphenols can also reduce and control blood sugar levels. So if you want to change your diet and eat more nutritiously, increasing your intake is a great way to start.

Dr. Amy Shah, MD, is a dual-certified physician and nutritionist specializing in food allergies, hormones, and gut health, with training at Cornell, Columbia, and Harvard. She is also the author of “I’m So Hungry: Why We Want What We Want and What to Do About It.” Follow her Instagram.

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