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Why we eat ‘bad’ sugary fast food

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You know it’s bad for you—but you still order another burger and fries.  But why?

Researchers have figured out that it’s all to do chemicals in processed foods that make them addictive.  The chemicals, advanced glycation end products (AGEs), make us feel hungry when we see a burger on the menu, and they test our willpower to opt for a healthier choice.

AGEs are created when sugars combine with proteins, lipids or nucleic acids in food, say researchers from the Buck Institute for Research on Aging.  They are in processed food, but the chemicals also get made when we bake, grill or fry food.  “The brown colour that occurs during cooking, which makes food look good and smell delicious, is the result of AGEs,” explained Muthaiyan Shanmugam, one of the researchers. 

The browning—which happens when sugars and proteins interact with heat—is known as the Maillard reaction, which creates thousands of AGEs in the food we eat.  

It’s also to with our genes.  We’re genetically programmed to select flavoursome foods and those with high sugar content.

Processed food may taste good, but it’s so bad for us.  AGE chemicals cause inflammation and oxidative damage, leading to cardiovascular disease, kidney problems, cancers and neurological disorders.  The accumulation of AGEs in our organs is one of the major drivers of ageing, said Pankaj Kapahi, another researcher.

So, when your whole being wants to say ‘yes’ to that burger, summon the willpower to instead say ‘no’.

References
eLife, 2023; 12: doi: 10.7554/eLife.82446
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