At just 25 years old, Niklas Brendborg wrote a book called The Age of Jellyfish Backwards about the science of aging and how important little things like flossing are.
In a new book called “Habit,” he reveals how you and I are manipulated by scientific tricks to eat more of what makes us sick.
Get his advice on how to avoid the worst pitfalls — including sending an idea to your grandmother.
And why the results of a small 2019 study of 20 healthy people at a US university is something I always think about.
Are there certain foods that you try to avoid completely?
I generally stay away from soft drinks and drinks sweetened with regular sugar. I can drink Coke Zero or Pepsi Max, but not the sweet version.
How could it be?
It’s one of the easiest ways to see changes in blood pressure, cholesterol levels, fat storage in the liver, and general risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
There are studies from Switzerland where researchers had people who don’t normally drink soft drinks start drinking sweetened soft drinks.
They found that it only took between two and three weeks for cholesterol levels to start rising.
After that, they also started gaining weight.
We seem to be worse at regulating our calorie intake in liquid form. If you eat a few hundred calories from another food, you will regulate your intake by reducing your appetite later.
But this does not happen with soft drinks. Here it seems that appetite is not affected by calories.
Are there any other foods you try to avoid?
I generally try to stay away from fried foods, and this is partly based on science, but also based on pure intuition.
The roasting process itself can produce a number of quite unhealthy substances. But in addition, oil therapy adds a lot of calories.
In a bag of potato chips, more calories come from the fat in which the chips are fried than from the potatoes themselves. Even though you may feel like this is what you are actually eating.
What’s the problem with calories?
The number of calories is just a measure of the energy content of food, and we need energy to survive.
The problem is when we eat more than we need and become overweight.
One conclusion in my new book is that this happens because many of the foods we eat are artificial.
They’re not picked from a tree or harvested in the field, but created by food scientists in a lab and designed to make you want to eat as much as possible so companies can make as much money as possible.
Are there any studies that made a special impression on you in this regard?
One study in particular was conducted by Americans Food scientist Kevin Hall. He and his colleagues gathered a range of topics and divided them into two groups:
One group had to live exclusively on ultra-processed foods for two weeks, and the other group had to live on unprocessed foods.
Participants were Americans and were already eating processed foods. They didn’t go from zero to one hundred.
However, the researchers found that the group that ate only processed foods began to gain weight. On the other hand, the group that did not eat processed foods began to lose weight.
The amazing thing is that the group that ate the ultra-processed food had to eat 500 calories more before they felt full.
This is despite the fact that the researchers tried to divide the meals so that they had approximately the same composition of fats, carbohydrates and proteins.
This shows once again that ultra-processed foods are designed to make us overeat, and they are clearly working as obesity rates continue to rise.
Do you have any advice for consumers who find it difficult to navigate?
The rule of thumb has always been that you are probably holding a highly processed food item on your hands if it comes in colorful packaging and can last for a very long time. Or if it has a trade name.
Or think about your grandmother or great-grandmother: If they don’t recognize the product, it’s probably also a highly processed food.
But it’s also easy to find highly processed types of cakes, sausages, etc., so this general rule isn’t completely waterproof, but it gives an idea.
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