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Food Addiction: Where's the Beef? continued...

While lobbyists for food manufacturers may minimize the risks of plates brimming with meat, cheese, and other high-fat items, Roizen says he believes that eating more than 20 grams a day of bad fats such as saturated fats and trans fats can contribute to breast and prostate cancers, as well as what he calls "arterial aging," which may lead to heart disease, stroke, impotence, memory loss, and even skin wrinkling.

The same goes for sugar, says Roizen, professor of medicine and anesthesiology at the State University of New York College of Medicine in Syracuse. "The main reason to avoid sugar is that it ages your arteries," he says. Add to that the recent lawsuits against fast-food chains for contributing to obesity and chronic illnesses, and the food industry may feel it is under a siege of supersized proportions.

Getting to Be a Habit

When words like "food addiction" are bandied about, there are plenty of skeptics who hesitate to put foods like cheese and chocolate into the same category as widely acknowledged addictions such as cocaine or alcohol. But Barnard asks, "What other term would you use for a woman who gets into her car at 11:30 at night and drives six miles to the 7-Eleven to get a chocolate bar, and does it every night? She's gaining weight, she feels profoundly guilty afterward, and though she resolves to stop this behavior, she does it every night, night after night? That's a food addiction."

The proponents of this food addiction theory point to possible differences between the sexes in their compulsions. Women may be more susceptible to chocolate, particularly in the premenstrual period. While some men may have a sweet tooth, many more say that the one food they're least likely to give up is steak. Barnard points to an April 2000 survey of 1,244 adults, which concluded that one in four Americans wouldn't give up meat for a week even if they were paid a thousand dollars to do so. "It sounds an awful lot like an addiction to me," he says.

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