Tuesday, October 4

The Cafeteria Diet: Human Junk Food to Make Mice Sick in the Lab


Do you know what the cafeteria diet is? Believe it or not, it is a scientific term. In articles in English it is known by the abbreviation CAF (Cafeteria Diet), and consists of feeding animals, usually laboratory rats, with ultra-processed human food.

Processed food, or the art of reading the label

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Researcher Anthony Sclafani was studying obesity in mice, but he had a problem. Although he gave them a butter and sugar-based feed and let them eat as much as they wanted, the mice were full and resisted gaining more weight. Then he noticed that some mice had taken a liking to one of the technicians’ breakfast cereals, and the lightbulb went on. He started giving the mice human food, calling it the “cafeteria diet.” On this diet, the mice could not stop eating, and they became obese in record time.

This diet is not fixed, because the researchers use different types of junk food, which they carefully list in their studies, but it is very recognizable. Among other things, they have used chocolate bars, peanut butter, potato chips, Coca Cola, muffins, different types of breakfast cereals with sugar, oreos, cheese sandwiches, crackers and donuts.

One possible explanation for its effects is that this diet was supposedly more attractive due to the variety of flavours, colors and textures, which the feed did not have. The same can be said of humans. In the book “Salt, Sugar and Fat” by Michael Moss, the author explains how many companies that manufacture sweets and salty snacks have laboratories designed to maximize the pleasure of each bite taking into account not only the ingredients and the taste, but the color, hardness, crunch, sensation in the mouth, aroma and a multitude of factors that induce the person to not stop until the bag is finished.

But the cafeteria diet not only induces obesity in lab rats much more quickly, it it also has other negative effects: Causes metabolic syndrome, with glucose intolerance and chronic inflammation, severe diabetic symptoms, liver inflammation, and other metabolic disturbances in these animals. A recently published review of these studies. This is a brief summary of how human food affects lab rats:

  • Prevents the correct regulation of appetite: the feeling of satiety is complex in mammals, and not only depends on the amount of food. Specific sensory satiety is what occurs when we eat a lot of one thing, and we get “tired” of eating the same thing. When giving the rats the CAF diet, this type of satiety stopped working.
  • induces you to eat more: A direct consequence of the above is that if our brain does not receive the signal that we are eating too much, we will continue eating, something called hyperphagia. Rats fed the cafeteria diet have been shown to consume up to 25% more food by weight, equivalent to 58% more calories.
  • Causes metabolic syndrome: This is the medical term for a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. This combination disproportionately increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Rats fed the CAF diet developed all these ailments. The interesting thing is that when they were fed with normal feed again for a month, the symptoms disappeared.
  • working memory decreases: In both rats and people, the hippocampus is the part of the brain where short-term memory resides, the one that allows us to function on a daily basis. In rats, the cafeteria diet made tests like getting out of a maze or associating objects with food they will find it more difficultwhich in turn is related to inflammation in the hippocampus.
  • Affects male hormones: rats obese from eating the cafeteria diet gave birth to male pups with disturbances in testosterone and other hormoneswhich in turn affected their ability to mate and reproduce.
  • Increase the frequency of meals: In addition to making the rats eat more, the cafeteria diet also makes them eat more. led to constant eatingwhich in humans would be equivalent to “snacking between meals”, something that is considered an added risk for obesity.
  • alters the microbiota: Food is known to alter the composition of gut bacteria populations, and that in turn alters metabolism and even behavior. In the case of the rats that ate the cafeteria diet, it decreased the diversity of gut bacteria and increased the populations of bacteria associated with obesity and inflammation.
  • Provides (temporary) relief from stress and anxiety: in the laboratory, stress and anxiety are induced in rats by putting them, for example, in a maze with elevated sections and no walls, since they do not like to be in open spaces. The rats that ate human junk food lowered their corticosteroid levels, stress hormones. Something that has also been seen in people who fight stress and anxiety by eating.
  • Makes breast milk less nutritious: Another experiment has shown that when pregnant rats are fed the CAF diet, even for a short time, the milk they produce contains less protein, which affects the development of the offspring and makes them more vulnerable to metabolic diseases.

For those people who still think that the composition of the food does not matter, and that the secret to losing weight is willpower, there is another fundamental study, and this time with people. The researchers compared two groups that could eat as much as they wanted. One received homemade food, and the other, junk food. The participants who received the ultra-processed diet ate about 500 kcal more per day, despite the fact that both diets contained the same amounts of nutrients, showing that industrial food induces to consume more quantity. Actually, that is its main function.

* Darío Pescador is editor and director of the quo magazine and author of the book your best self Posted by Oberon.

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