Ever wonder why sometimes you are perfectly happy eating healthy foods, and some days all you want to eat is a bag of cheetos and a box of brownies? The answer is ghrelin, and the fact that humans have mentally evolved much faster than we have biologically.
Ghrelin is a hormone produced by the hypothalamic glands where it stimulates the secretion of growth hormones in the anterior pituitary gland. It is a G-protein coupled receptor, that is also produced by the cells lining the human stomach and the epsilon cells of the pancreas. In simple terms the cells that produce this hormone stimulate hunger and the production of growth hormones that in turn tells your brain you are hungry and tells your body to store and create fat mass.
This is a natural biological process and at the basic chemical levels this process is not only a necessary trigger as it is regulatory process. However, our lives have changed dramatically while our evolutionary progress has very little. We as a species have evolved very little since civilized societies of humans have swept the world. We have no need. As our brains have evolved and our cognitive processes have become more complex, we as a species no longer have to evolve to adapt to our environments, we now change our environments to suit our needs. So while we have become smarter our bodies have changed very little. One of the very earliest adaptation mechanisms animals have is the ability to sense food sources, whether it be sight, smell or other more complex triggers, animals can tell where the most calorie rich food sources can be found, and in nature this is found mostly as the flavor sweet, or in other animals in the form of fats. Humans are animals and we are evolutionarily predisposed to know where fat and sugar are and to crave them when our bodies trigger our brains for energy needs, enter ghrelin.
The problem really presents itself now that we have advanced enough to not have to depend on natural environments for our energy sources. We depend on grocery stores, and restaurants, and unfortunately due to a number to FDA laws, reductionist nutrition and capitalized food companies, we now have a plethora of high octane foods available in about every flavor you could hope for. The majority of our food sources have been reduced to the bare minimum, sugar. Whether it be potato chips with its fat, sugar and salt ingredients, or soda with its many sugar sources or even a fast food hamburger (fat and added sugar for flavor). We literally can’t help ourselves, these foods were designed for us, designed to be made of exactly what our bodies crave. However, due to our sedentary life styles (we no longer have to hunt and gather for livelihood), we aren’t burning the calories we take in. So while we are evolutionarily primed to crave the food available, biologically speaking we no longer need it.
The solution? I don’t have one for your. Your body is different, your biological and chemical needs are different from mine, and everyone else’s on the planet. But eating a good breakfast full of protein, fruits and/or veggies will help regulate your insulin and ghrelin levels throughout the day. Understanding what cravings really are also helps and listening to your body. If you haven’t eaten anything with protein for a few hours, don’t run out and eat junk food, or breads or protein bars (which are chock-a-block full of sugar), find yourself some fat in the form of a cheese snack, or a bit of chicken, or even whole wheat toast and peanut butter, nuts snacks or dried fruit. If are craving sugar try eating fruit or veggies and drinking lots of water. These cravings can easily be controlled, and by making the right eating decisions you will be controlling your body’s own hormone and insulin levels and avoiding any catastrophic problems down the road.
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