Many foods that we eat trigger feel-good chemicals that can quickly become our go-to foods in times of stress. Soy, spinach, rice, meat, fish, wheat, dairy, fruit, coffee, and chocolate to name a few.
These are foods that either contain natural opioids or trigger an opioid-like response in the body. The question is whether these are foods that we should be avoiding, or did Mother Nature put those opioids in foods so that we will eat more of them?
Wheat and dairy opioids, or exorphins specifically, have been highly criticized for creating an addiction to these foods, while coffee and chocolate, which are more addictive, are often touted as health foods.
Recently, many researchers have been making the case that eating foods high in natural opioids are the cause of obesity, as they over-stimulate and ultimately de-sensitize dopamine receptors. The rationale is that with a reduced number of functional dopamine receptors, the brain will crave more and more opiate-rich foods to achieve the desired feeling of satisfaction. Dr. Davis, author of the Wheat Belly, has led the wheat-opioid brigade, pointing the finger at wheat for just about everything. (2)
A new study from the University of Turku in Finland has made a very interesting discovery. The researchers fed one group of people a very satisfying meal of pizza, and fed another group some non-appetizing nutritional goo. Opioid levels were measured after both of these meals and, to their surprise, the non-appetizing nutritional goo meal raised post-meal brain opioid levels significantly higher than the pizza meal. (1)
Even though the pizza group rated their meal much more enjoyable and tastier than the goo group, the brain produced more pleasure opioids than the non-pleasing meal. So it seems, according to this new study, that just feeding––even when it doesn’t taste good––will trigger a pleasurable response in the brain.
In an ancestral sense, I imagine food wasn’t always tasty, but we are still here, suggesting that eating just about anything gave us enough pleasure to continue eating foods that maybe didn’t taste so wonderful. Perhaps this explains why different cultures can enjoy such drastically different tasting foods, and why it takes just a little while for us to acquire a taste for foods that initially weren’t so appetizing.
A Case for Opiate-Rich Foods
There are many foods that have natural opiates or trigger an opiate response, such as mother’s milk, soy, spinach, rice, meat, fish, wheat, dairy, fruit, coffee, and chocolate. Are we to stop eating all of these foods?
Dr. Davis cites studies that show a significant reduction of wheat consumption when wheat opiates are blocked by an opioid-blocking drug. But when you dig just a little deeper, you find that the consumption of meat was also blocked by up to 50% when meat-eaters were given the same opioid-blocker. (3)
In fact, there are numerous studies that found the same opioid-blockers reduce people’s total consumption of all food by 22% in one study (4) and 28% in another, suggesting that perhaps all foods trigger some sort of a pleasure, opioid-like response that is linked to our survival and that we are hard-wired to eat. (5)
The reality is that there are toxins in a lot of the foods we eat, but we have been eating them and adapting to them for millions of years. The exorphins in wheat, if not completely digested, can cause some intestinal irritation, but it is also clear that we have the digestive power, microbes and enzymes to fully digest wheat – opioids and all!
In defense of wheat, for example, as I write in my new book, Eat Wheat, there is a naturally-occurring enzyme that is found in the mouth saliva, small intestines and intestinal lymph that has been shown to completely break down gluten and its opioid exorphins. (7,8)