Are Some Foods Really Addictive?

Photo credit: bigstock.com

Photo credit: bigstock.com

When people hear the word “addiction,” substances like alcohol, cocaine, or opioid drugs are often what come to mind. What if we told you that you might be consuming addictive substances on a regular basis, even if you avoid all of those things? The truth is that many common ingredients found in everyday foods can be just as addictive as hard drugs and booze. Food addiction is a problem that affects millions of people who aren’t even aware of its existence, and in this article we’ll expose the true nature of addictive foods and their link to a variety of disastrous health consequences.

 

The Nature of Addiction

In order to understand how food can be addictive, we must first understand what addiction is. Most people have a basic, surface-level understanding of addiction; it is a physiological condition where the body simply can’t function normally anymore without a certain foreign substance inside it. Addiction can manifest itself in all kinds of physical ways, but no matter what the substance in question is, it’s important to understand that addiction always happens in the same place: the brain.

Neurochemistry is essentially what regulates all brain, and thus bodily, function. The balance between different neurochemicals like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine is what influences our psychological and physiological states of being. Of particular importance is the neurotransmitter chemical dopamine, because this is the key compound that allows addiction to occur.

Dopamine is sometimes referred to as the “pleasure chemical,” and it’s a part of the brain’s reward system. The reward system exists as a natural way to incentivize and reward “good” behavior. When a human or animal sees, smells, experiences or does something “good,” the brain releases dopamine, which is picked up by dopamine receptors in the brain. This phenomenon is what creates the feeling of pleasure. When a person or animal experiences this, they like it and want more.

Things like eating a piece of fruit, seeing someone you find attractive, the aroma of a home-cooked meal, or having sex all trigger a release of dopamine, to varying degrees. As you’ve probably guessed, drugs and alcohol also trigger a release of dopamine as well, even more so than normal, natural activities.

Here’s where things become problematic. When the brain detects that there’s too much dopamine flooding the brain too often, it starts to deactivate dopamine receptors, a phenomenon called “down-regulation.” When this happens, the person begins to develop a tolerance for the substance they’ve been consuming. It takes more and more of that substance to achieve the same high. Therefore, the person begins taking in higher and higher quantities of drugs or alcohol to achieve the same effect. If the cycle gets to the point where that person simply cannot function anymore without the substance, he or she has a full-blown addiction.

Until fairly recently, most people believed only illegal drugs or alcohol could cause this problem. But more and more evidence has shown that many different things, like over-the-counter drugs, internet pornography, and even snack foods can cause the exact same effects in the brain.

Of all the things we’ve mentioned, food is the only one that’s impossible to avoid, so it’s no surprise that this is the addiction that affects the most people. Let’s examine this in more detail.

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Photo credit: bigstock.com

Photo credit: bigstock.com

Which Food Are Addictive?

The unholy trinity of addictive foods is made up of sugar, fat and salt. Modern processed foods are FILLED with these three ingredients, many of them in just the right ratios to trigger the maximum dopamine release. This is why many people find it so difficult to eat just one potato chip, or just one pretzel, or just one cookie. The moment that first serving hits the tongue, the brain essentially receives a dopamine signal screaming, “This is good; give me more!”

Sugar, fat, and salt do occur naturally in whole foods like fruits, meat, vegetables, etc. … But they occur in their natural forms and context. They aren’t modified and tweaked in laboratories to make them more addictive the way they are in processed foods.

The ludicrous amounts of sugar and unnatural fats found in processed foods are directly linked to the obesity epidemic, an increased risk of cancer, and more. Salt is also one of the most overused ingredients and contributes to high blood pressure and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

How sensitive someone is to food addiction is determined in large part by genetics, but no one is totally immune. So what’s the solution?

When it comes to health and nutrition, oftentimes it’s what you DON’T eat that’s more important than what you do. Don’t eat junk food, fast food, soda, snack foods and candy, and you’re at least halfway there. Eliminating processed foods from your diet will put you far ahead of the majority of the population in terms of health.

 

READ ALSO: America’s Salt Addiction In Numbers Infographic

 

There are plenty of articles here detailing how to eat properly; use these as your guides to build a new and healthy diet. Make the decision to free yourself from unhealthy addictive foods.

References:

www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov