Friday, November 6, 2015

This Is Your Brain on Animal Products

The Vegan Vine
Addictions come in many different forms. Some people are addicted to substances like caffeine, drugs, and alcohol, while others are hooked on activities like buying and collecting stuff or watching porn. There are sexaholics, chocoholics, shopaholics, and workaholics. But another type of addiction that gets very little attention is our addiction to animal foods: meat, dairy, and eggs.

When I first went vegan there was an adjustment period in which my taste buds had to learn new flavors and textures from non-animal foods. For example, back in 1997, veggie burgers, vegan ice-creams, and vegan cheeses were limited and not as advanced as the vegan options on the market today, so they were somewhat unfamiliar compared to the cruel and cholesterol-laden products I had grown accustomed to.

Though I was concerned about flavor and taste, it was not my overriding interest. For me, being vegan was and will always be about ethics and justice, and eliminating animal cruelty from my diet; that meant all animal products had to go! For this reason alone, I was excited and more than willing to try new foods that might take some time getting used to. In actuality, it took no time at all.

I started out with meatless and dairy-free substitutes. As the years went by I learned to cook more, try different recipes, and incorporate more healthful, whole foods into my diet. Now, I rarely need to add sugar or salt to any recipe as my taste buds have detoxed from the heavily masked and preserved animal products that pass for food.

The majority of consumers, however, are still addicted to processed meat and dairy products and don’t even realize it. They are easily persuaded—dare I say hypnotized—by advertisers to go out and buy whatever’s being pitched to them. Keeping in line with social norms, most consumers seem unable and unwilling to exercise any discipline or self-control when it comes to animal foods and defend their preferences under the presumption that might makes right. Consider the latest fixation with bacon, which can be found in most anything these days including cupcakes and ice-cream.

Further complicating matters is that everyone is in a hurry. Finding time to make nourishing, plant-based meals in today’s technologically-driven frenzy is simply not a priority. Combined with the fact that fast food restaurants are ubiquitous and rake in some $160 billion every year, it comes as no surprise that one-third of Americans are obese and two-thirds are overweight. As a result, healthcare costs have skyrocketed from treating diseases primarily attributed to our addiction to animal foods: diabetes, heart disease, cancer and obesity.

And Big Pharma continues to reap the rewards from our addiction to heartless and heart-destroying products. Cholesterol can only be found in animals and animal foods. In 2013, the most proscribed pharmaceutical was the cholesterol lowering drug Crestor, to the tune of $5.3 billion. Before Lipitor’s patent expired in 2011, it was the world’s biggest selling cholesterol-lowering drug (statin). It reached $9 billion in annual sales and accrued more than $131 billion over its lifetime.

The majority of foods offered at well-recognized fast food establishments are devoid of any real nutrition, yet offer the additives that keep people coming back for more: sugar, salt, and fat. Is it any wonder these places do so well?

An especially addictive food is cheese. I wish I had a dollar every time someone told me that they can “never be vegan” because they love cheese too much. Morally speaking, the fact that someone will pronounce their “love” for a food product over the life of an actual living being who was raped and tortured to produce that product is problematic in itself, irrespective of health. But let’s look at this craving for cheese.

There is morphine in both cow and human milks. Cheese contains more casein—a protein that releases opiates when digested—than any other dairy product as well as an amphetamine-like chemical. According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), cheese does have addictive properties, but there is a logical reason for this. These opiates, naturally found in both cow and human milks, are there to have a calming effect on suckling infants and to ensure that infants bond with their mothers and get all the nutrients they need. Another undeniable affirmation for why mother’s milk is vital for babies—cow’s milk for calves and human milk for infants. Opiates in cow's milk are there to encourage calves to drink their mother's milk—not for humans to steal and turn into cheese.

In his documentary, The Pleasure Trap, Dr. Doug Lisle explained that all animals—human and nonhuman—seek pleasure and avoid pain to stay alive. While our brains are biologically geared to do this, unnatural and artificial stimuli can hijack our biological processes. Similarly to the way drugs operate, certain foods activate a part of our brain that keep us coming back for more pleasure producing stimuli.

Meat, dairy, and junk food products are heavy in the stimuli—fats, salts, and sugars—that increase the dopamine circuitry in our brains much the way drugs like cocaine do. As any addict will tell you, eventually you need more and more of your preferred poison to maintain the high. It’s the same reason why most people can’t eat just one potato chip or one cookie. Likewise, over time our brain sensors and taste buds are dulled from these food additives and so we consume more of them while our bodies get sicker. We increase our intake of these salty, fatty and sugary foods to sustain the high, which makes doing the right thing—changing our diets and rejecting these harmful foods—even harder to do, hence the term “pleasure trap.”

The good news is that food compulsions can be overcome. Our bodies and brains can recover in a few weeks if we train ourselves to be more sensitive to the right foods by maintaining a whole foods, plant-based diet.

Personally, I noticed the physical change right away. When I went vegan I lost fifteen pounds in the first month just from eradicating dairy foods and all their saturated fats. I also gave up nothing as I simply exchanged cruel animal products for healthier, vegan options. As I added more diverse dishes and whole foods, and used fewer and fewer processed foods, I also noticed a change in my preferences. No longer was I stuck in the sad SAD (Standard American Diet) as I savored new vegetables, legumes, grains, and natural seasonings and herbs.

Removing painful and punishing foods from my life was one of the best decisions I've ever made. Excluding meat, dairy, and egg products from our diets is not only beneficial to our own flesh and blood, but to the flesh and blood of other sentient creatures as well. It’s really a no-brainer!

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