(KPLR) - On this Monday before Thanksgiving, the doctor is in with food for thought on how we eat.
Dr. Sonny Saggar, from St. Louis Urgent Cares made a trip to the station to give us more medical advice we may never take.
This week Dr. Saggar stressed the importance of cutting the white powders and fats out of our diets.
Each American eats more than 33 pounds of cheese a year, which is three times more than Americans did in 1970. We also eat more than 70 pounds of sugar a year and up to six pounds of salt.
Could our growing addiction to these unhealthy junk foods be causing our growing obesity crisis?
The majority of this food comes from processed sources, food that is made in a plant rather than grown on a plant.
In fact, it's harder to imagine someone binging on a whole bowl of apples or corn, than someone gorging on a whole bag of chips or bag of cookies.
The addictive qualities of most junk foods could be boiled down to three additives: salt, sugar and fat.
Salt is the 'magic ingredient' because it provides a cheap burst of flavor. It not only makes sugar taste sweeter, it can even add crunch to crackers and chips. It's also a preservative.
Taken in excess, it can not only raise your blood pressure and damage your heart, it can also make you look puffy and retain more water weight.
To make salt's taste more powerful, companies use kosher salt instead of regular table salt. This is because kosher salt is shaped differently and dissolves on your tongue faster and triggers a flavor burst all over your mouth.
Our bodies are hard-wired to crave foods with sugar. Food companies know this and take advantage of it by adding as much sugar as possible to send the consumer over moon without going overboard.
Fat is even more powerful than sugar. It comes in many forms and isn't easily recognized on food labels. It provides twice the energy kick of sugar and gives food the capacity to sit on shelves for days. It can also give the food more bulk or texture.
The more fat a food company adds to a particular product, the more attractive it was because of its altered taste and texture. Think about the gooey feeling of cheese, the creamy taste of alfredo sauce or the savory crunch of fried chicken.
What's going on in our brains?
Experiments have shown that various forms of food stimuli (advertisements, smells, photographs of food) trigger the brain the same way that seeing any white powder triggers cocaine addicts.
Eating foods that are high in fat and sugar has been shown to surge the body's release of its own opioids, which act like morphine in the body.
Drugs that block the brain's addictive receptors for heroin and morphine also work at blocking a person's cravings for sweet, high-fat foods.
The similarities can be seen using a PET brain scan to compare the brain structures of a cocaine addict to that of a food addict.
When cocaine addicts observed a video of someone snorting cocaine, their brains surge with dopamine, the brain's feel-good chemical, in the dorsal striatum.
However, when they exposed non-addicts to images of a delicious cheeseburger, they observed the same surges of dopamine in the same parts of the brain.
The king of addictive foods: the potato chip
Potato chips are the most weight-inducing food on the market, as they contain targeted amounts of salt, sugar and fat to ensure addiction.
The factory process makes this food dangerously irresistible. After being cut into thin slices, the potatoes are fried to a crisp in fat, which gives the chip most of its calories.
Then, they get covered in salt, which hits the tongue first and provides bursts of extra flavor.
Then, the moment you eat them, the simple carbohydrates in the potatoes quickly break down into sugar, bringing you to the bliss point that makes the chip the most enjoyable.
The sugar then quickly enters your bloodstream. This causes your blood sugar to spike faster than it would had you consumed a similar amount of table sugar.
All three of the junk-food-addiction building blocks in the potato chip work together to make you crave more chips and gain more weight.
What are food companies doing about it?
Instead of acknowledging claims that the food industry is deliberately making junk food more addictive, many food companies instead point fingers at the consumer for lack of self-control.
However, the larger picture is more complicated that. Many companies are merely trying to keep their brand in the mix in an atmosphere of stiff competition and limited profit margins.
That's no excuse for endangering the health of the public by developing new foods and drinks loaded with more sugar, more fat and more salt.
In order to protect yourself, become a food label vigilante. Actively look for foods that are lower in sodium, and have less sugar and lower fat. You can also seek out natural, plant-based snacks and food.
With enough consumer pressure and lobbying, food companies may have to produce more of the healthy foods that the public desires, and actually does need.
Why don't people take this advice?
We all know stuff, but we don't do anything about it. People think in the short-term, not in the long-term.
We know smoking cigarettes puts us at higher risk of heart disease and lung cancer, and yet people continue to smoke. In other words, hearing advice won't get anyone to change their habits.
Change will only occur if they really believe, deep down, that the daily habit will change into real consequences in a few years.
It's like saving a penny a day. It sounds like a silly way to save any serious money, but with compound interest, this changes to hundreds of dollars after just a few years.
So stop the salt, fat and sugar, starting this Friday.
St. Louis Urgent Cares presently has 4 locations in St. Louis, and all 4 are active participants in Direct Medical Care: Downtown Urgent Care, Eureka Urgent Care and Creve Coeur Urgent Care, and North City Urgent Care.